By Stacy Smith, APR

It is helpful that the East Glen Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation has access to a bus because Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2018, Annie Avery, has kept it on the road this year.

An intrepid advocate for nursing homes, their residents and staff, Avery donned her crown and accepted invitations to visit north to Cottage of the Shoals, south to Andalusia Manor, east to Arbor Spring Health and Rehab Center in Opelika and west to Heritage Health Care and Rehab in Tuscaloosa. Overall, she visited a dozen skilled nursing facilities across the state.

One of the dearest visits Avery recalls is her visit to the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City.

Annie Avery with students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“My husband was, and my son is a veteran. The residents and staff at the veterans home were so warm and outgoing. They embraced me, and I embraced them. I hold that memory from my reign as most dear,” said Avery.

Her advocacy also reached far outside the walls of nursing homes. As a history buff, on one of her visits she toured Bessemer where she ate lunch at one of the oldest operational restaurants in the state, The Bright Star founded in 1907, toured the historic Bessemer Chamber of Commerce building, and gave a talk at the Bessemer Public Library during Women in History Month.

Avery, age 81, spoke at the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s Annual Convention, and had conversations with students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) majoring in health care administration.

At the same time back at East Glen, she served as president of the Resident Council and founded the Ladies in Red community service organization. She first founded Ladies in Red in New Orleans and brought the concept to East Glen where they focus on resident life and community service. For community service, this winter they made mats for those at the Jimmie Hale Mission homeless shelter, and also delivered water, blankets and socks to a local warming station. For resident life, they are in the process of auctioning a painting by one of the residents and will use the proceeds to purchase supplies so their resident-artist can teach other residents how to paint.

Innovatively, this year East Glen Executive Director Trina Vines has implemented a new program in which Avery participates in the hiring and training of employees.

“I truly appreciate that the directors at East Glen approved me to be able to interview the people being hired. I’m a part of the job interview process,” said Avery.

Avery also speaks with employees during certified nursing assistant trainings.

“Ms. Avery is very much an advocate for seniors, and very much wants people to understand what goes on in a nursing home. She explains to new staff that this is her home, and she wants this to be best place. She is serious about that,” said Vines.

Expanding her advocacy to elected officials, Avery invited Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin for a visit to East Glen. His first visit was during lunch, and he talked with every person in the dining room.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell honors Annie Avery with a copy of the Congressional Record noting her win as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home.

“After all, we are voting people in here. It’s important that the mayor knows us. I asked him to come back another time. Now, Mayor Woodfin just drops in. I expect him to come back again later this summer,” said Avery.

Alabama State Senator J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner sent a resolution recognizing her. U.S. Representative Terri Sewell delivered a copy of the Congressional Record honoring Avery. During her visit, they discovered that Sewell’s Uncle Otis Washington taught Avery’s sons at St. Augustine’s Catholic School in New Orleans.

“It is a small world,” Avery marveled.

An avid reader, Avery reads to residents. The monthly East Glen newsletter includes an Annie’s Advice column, and she secured a donation from Church of the Highlands of several Bibles that she gives out.

“We have residents who cannot read. Some are blind. We sit in the courtyard, and I read to residents. Some want me to read their mail to them,” said Avery.

She has been invited back to the Bessemer Public Library, this time to lead a summer story time with preschoolers. She will wear her crown and read “Thank You World” by Alice McGinty, and share “thank you” thoughts with the children.

Annie Avery is thankful to have been Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2018, thankful to be a part of the history of advocacy for nursing homes, and thankful that another will have this important opportunity.

Editor’s Note: Stacy Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham.