NEWPORT — More than a year after Hurricane Florence struck Carteret County, local officials joined staff, residents and their families at Carteret House Thursday for a preview event ahead of its official reopening.
Carteret House is an assisted living facility at 3020 Market St. in Newport. The facility experienced major flooding and other damage during Hurricane Florence in September 2018 and it has been closed for repairs since then.
“There were lots of communities in the eastern part of North Carolina that were subject to damage and hurricane-force winds and flooding, and this building was one of them,” said Sandra Korzeniewski, senior vice president of new development and acquisitions for Affinity Living Group, the parent company of Carteret House. “We made the decision to relocate our residents to some of the sister facilities to be safe, and this building did flood.”
Ms. Korzeniewski said the floodwaters destroyed just about everything in the building, from the flooring to the drywall to virtually all the furniture. Because assisted living facilities are subject to stricter regulations than other building uses, the process to ensure it was safe to reopen was a long one.
“It had to have full renovations to include environmental testing, and everything in here had to be replaced,” she said. “It’s basically a brand new building.”
The building has all new showers, appliances, light fixtures, furniture and other amenities, Ms. Korzeniewski said. Those who attended Thursday’s preview event were able to tour the building to see the updated rooms.
About 45 residents were placed in sister facilities while repairs were carried out. Ms. Korzeniewski said they tried to put residents in facilities as close to Carteret County as possible, but some had to go further away because of limited space.
The Carteret House hopes to start moving residents in by Friday, Nov. 1 and will bring them back in phases, with the hope to have everyone moved back in by about mid-November. Ms. Korzeniewski said it has been a long road to get to this point, and she is excited to begin welcoming people back home.
“It can be an emotional time. I’m very much a resident advocate for bringing them home, and it can be emotional and I can get emotional because this is their home, this is their lives,” she said. “They get attached to you, you build relationships and bonds between the staff and the residents, and it will be a joyous occasion.”
Ms. Korzeniewski added the support of the local Carteret County community was overwhelming, and she was happy to see people come together after such a major disaster.
The Carteret House’s newly appointed Executive Director Nawassa Johnson echoed Ms. Korzeniewski’s sentiments, saying she is excited to bring residents back home.
“My first priority is those residents and getting them back home. Just knowing it’s close to getting them home, it’s overwhelming,” she said. “I’m keeping in contact with residents as much as I can and they’re ready.”
Dr. Michael Bell, a retired physician and Promise Land resident, attended the preview event Thursday to check out the newly renovated facility. His mother, Doris Pitcher, is 83 years old and moved into the facility several years ago with her late husband, Ron Pitcher. She has been staying in a facility in Pamlico County since just after Florence, but will get to move back to Carteret House soon.
Dr. Bell said he is excited to move his mother back because he likes to visit her frequently, which was harder to do when she was more than an hour away in Pamlico County. He also said he is pleased with the updates to the building, saying it feels more “homey.”
“I like what they’ve done, this is nice and open now. They’ve taken out several walls, opened it up and made it more airy, and they’ve eliminated the formal nursing stations, which I think is interesting,” he said. “The rooms are very nice, I went around looked at mom’s room.”
Dr. Bell said his experience with Carteret House has been positive, and he spoke highly of the staff, many of whom also work at Carteret Health Care and already know his mother. He added his mother suffers from dementia and resisted being moved into an assisted living facility at first, but has found her place at Carteret House.
“She got here and almost immediately fell in love. That was so comforting because they’re family, you know you’re doing the right thing, but you don’t know how they’re going to accept it, and she did right away,” he said. “…It’s home, this is home. I can come and go and it’s much more comfortable for family. They do a great job.”
Overall, staff and residents alike are excited to get the facility back up and running. Ms. Johnson said although Florence was a major disaster in Carteret County, it has been great to see people come together and help out others in a time of need.
“When things like this happen, you really see the loyalty and heart of the staff and the communities that come together,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s very impressive and I’m very blessed to work for a company like this.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.