To celebrate the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s 65th anniversary, we’re highlighting unique individuals who’ve dedicated their life to long-term care and are committed to our organization. In this article, we shine a spotlight on Mark Wheat. Mark credits his membership in ANHA with helping successfully operate an independently-owned skilled nursing care center.

By Missy Burchart

Mark Wheat is a small-town man with a big heart. Whether it is serving his community, taking care of residents in his facility, or spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren, he does everything wholeheartedly.

Mark grew up in Aliceville, a close-knit community of approximately 3,000 residents. His father Harry was a pharmacist and owned a drug store in town. Mark worked in his father’s business, getting to know the town folk. Growing up, the folks around Aliceville affectionately referred to him as Harry’s boy.

After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in agriculture he went to work with the local farmers. He got to know the older farmers he was working with and formed a bond with those around him.

Today, as administrator and owner of Aliceville Manor Nursing Home, he is taking care of many of those same folks as well as the families of his friends. Aliceville Manor Nursing Home is a 100-bed skilled nursing care center built by the Wheat’s in 1975. Their mission is to offer comprehensive services designed to meet individual needs in a nurturing environment.

“This is what I was meant to do,” says Wheat. “All my life I’ve enjoyed spending time with people and finding ways to help them.”

Wheat started at Aliceville Manor in their maintenance department. He got to know the business and moved his way up. In 1986, he earned his administrators license and in a few years later he became sole owner of the home. His wife Melinda, who has a nursing background joined him as assistant administrator. The two enjoy working together as a team though Melinda jokingly admits that the office they share gets a little small at times.

Running a facility in a rural community has its challenges. But the Wheat’s will tell you their biggest challenge is running an independently-owned skilled nursing care center. The answer to that challenge is a solid relationship with the Alabama Nursing Home Association (ANHA) and other association members.

“We could not do what we do without the support of the ANHA,” said Wheat. “Over the last 30 years so much has changed in the business and change is constant. ANHA has served as a valuable resource. From understanding new regulatory mandates to providing information we might not have access to otherwise; they truly make it possible for us to operate successfully.”

Wheat has served the ANHA on numerous committees and has been the secretary for Region Nine for the past 15 years. But he and wife Melinda will tell you it’s the relationships with other ANHA members that has been the most valuable to them over their years. Through the association, they’ve formed friendships with their peers who have served as trusted advisors in their work.

“I routinely find myself catching up with one of my friends I’ve made through the association,” Wheat says. “One day I might chat with Blake, Eddie or Reverend Jackson over in Tuscaloosa. When you’re out here by yourself like we are its good to have folks in our business who are just a phone call away.”

Wheat is known to his staff as being easily approachable with one long term employee recently summing it up best as “He cares about the staff and residents alike. If there is a need, he finds a way to meet it.”

The Wheats know they’re making a difference in their community. For the last 20 years, Wheat has partnered with the Pickens County Board of Education Career Technical Education Health Science program driven by his concern for the welfare and future of young people. Wheat is active in the current collaboration to begin construction of the Pickens County Career Center in August 2017.

Mark Wheat with his mother, Clem Wheat.

Mark Wheat with his mother, Clem Wheat.

Most of all he is still making a difference to the first lady in his life, his mother Clem Wheat.

“Ms. Clem” will turn 90 this July. She resides at Aliceville Manor Nursing Home and anyone will tell you her son is her heart. Although she’s been diagnosed with dementia she lights up when his name is called, when she hears his voice or she sees his face.

“It is humbling to be able to care for not only your own mother, but the mothers and fathers of many of your friends.”

Though with any business, there are tough days. Wheat says that when he’s having a tough day he walks the halls and visits with his residents and that puts everything into perspective.

Editor’s Note: Missy Burchart, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham.