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Covington Ladies Home seeks help after 130 years of providing for others

'It's a dignity issue'
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-05 18:45:29-04

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Tucked away in a quiet corner of Covington, the Covington Ladies Home has been providing comfort and community for more than a century.

Since the day it opened as the Home for Aged and Indigent Women, ladies have been able to stay regardless of their ability to pay. The women have private rooms, staff on-site around the clock, chef-prepared meals and laundry service, among other services.

But there's a crucial amenity that the residents don't have: Private bathrooms. And without them, it has become more and more difficult for the home to continue to operate as it has since 1886. That's because most women who can afford to go someplace with private bathrooms do. That leaves a smaller number of residents paying the full $2,400 monthly cost, which helps offset the cost for those who can't afford the full amount.

Dormitory-style bathroom at Covington Ladies Home.

Think about it. With dormitory-style restrooms, women in their 70s, 80s and 90s must get up and leave their bedrooms in the middle of the night to go down the hall if they need to relieve themselves. Residents sometimes become so desperate or confused that they use the sinks or trashcans in their rooms instead, said Janet Borton, the home's executive director.

So it's not just a financial issue, Borton said: "It's a dignity issue."

That's why -- for the first time in its 130-year history -- Covington Ladies Home has launched a major fundraising campaign to build a new $5.5 million addition. The home is trying to raise $3.5 million of that total and plans to borrow the rest.

And for that money, the ladies who live there would get new amenities beyond their own bathrooms, too.

Nice people, good food and community

The new Covington Ladies Home would increase the facility's capacity from 32 rooms to 43 rooms. Each room would have its own bathroom, of course. But the addition also would have lounges, an expanded dining area and an enclosed courtyard so that the ladies could go outside on their own. With the home's current design, residents can only go outside when a staff member is with them for security reasons, Borton said.

The home already has closed a wing of rooms on its first floor, which will be demolished once construction on the new building starts.

That way, none of the facility's 25 residents will have to move until the new rooms are ready.

Residents furnish their own bedrooms.

Covington City Commissioners passed a resolution endorsing the renovation and expansion of the home during their Sept. 20 meeting.

The ladies who live there now said they are eager for the work to get underway.

Mary Hayes, who is 85, has lived at Covington Ladies Home for about three years and said she likes "everything" about the place.

"The people are so nice. The food is delicious. And everybody seems to get along real good together," Hayes said.

She and Gloria Thomas, who is 87, said they're both looking forward to the expansion.

Gloria Thomas, left, and Mary Hayes.

"I'm very happy here," Thomas said. "They just seem to go out of their way to do things for you and see that you have something to do."

In that way, the Covington Ladies Home staff works to help residents feel like they're part of a community, said Charlotte Conway, who is 91.

"You don't feel like you're an outsider," she said.

Meeting a need

Covington Ladies Home was founded two years after the Great Flood of 1884. Ellen B. Dietrich, a resident of West Covington, saw elderly, poor women living on the streets after the flood because they had no shelter, no income and no way to rebuild their lives.

With the help of her friends, Dietrich established The Women's Educational and Industrial Union. It provided an employment bureau, a sewing school and classes in housekeeping. It also included the Home for Aged and Indigent Women, which moved to its current location back in 1894.

Hot and cold running water was installed in each Covington Ladies Home resident's room in 1941, with a mirror above each sink.

The dormitory-style bathrooms were updated several years later, Borton said.

As a "personal care home," the Covington Ladies Home has fewer medical services than a nursing home but more than an assisted-living facility, Borton said.

Ladies who live there have to be able to take care of most of their own daily activities and needs. But staff members are qualified to dispense and manage medication and coordinate medical needs with residents' doctors, she said.

Staff members also make sure to check on each resident at least once every two hours.

"If Mom gets up and falls, worst-case scenario, she's only been there two hours," Borton said.

All of that makes Covington Ladies Home an unusual facility in the world of elder care -- and a niche charity without the same level of popular support that kids' charities tend to get, said Sharmaine McLaren, a public relations consultant for the home.

The ladies get together for meals.

But Borton knows from the women and families that Covington Ladies Home serves every day that the facility is needed just as much now as it ever was.

"We think our mission is sound," she said. "And we want to be here."

More information about Covington Ladies Home and its fundraising campaign is available online. The home's 130th anniversary gala will be from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 22 at The Metropolitan Club. Ticket and sponsorship information is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, to go www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.