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History of Three Rivers

Around the turn of the century the standard practice in rural Georgia was that of the family physician making house calls, when summoned, to minister to the needs of the sick at home.  Transportation for the doctor was usually by horse and buggy, horseback, train or later the automobile.  During the 1920’s and 1930’s physicians built hospitals or clinics to bring their patients in for treatment from the farther areas, but continued to make house calls to the more affluent and those close in.

By the 1970’s, the days of the family doctor making house calls were only a fondly remembered activity of the past.

In the mid 1970’s, Mrs. Elizabeth Smyly Martin of Eastman, mother of Hal M. Smith, Jr. and Claire Smyly Martin Jones, experienced a three year bout with terminal cancer including many hospital stays.  Hal’s wife Kaye Burnham Smith, a registered nurse spent countless hours nursing her mother-in-law at home during her extended illness.  Mrs. Martin would ask on occasion “What happens to other people who are at home sick as I am and do not have a nurse in the family?”  While there was no good, ready answer to Mrs. Martin’s question, it lingered hauntingly in the mind of her daughter-in-law, nurse, Kaye.

At that time, Kaye was a Dodge County Public Health Nurse and had been involved in some limited home health work but wanted to do more.  The combination of her love for health care in the home and seeking the answer to Mrs. Martin’s question sparked her decision to become a provider of Home Health care.

The process began in 1978 with Kaye researching the professional health care aspects of the envisioned business and her husband, Hal, delving into the regulatory, financial, legal and administrative requirements.  During this time they made many inquiries, contacts and visits to governmental regulatory agencies, health care providers and institutions preparatory to formulating the business.  They wanted a partner and turned to LaMae Smith Williams, originally from Waycross Georgia, a registered nurse who had done private duty nursing for Hal’s mother, Mrs. Martin, during the final four months of her illness.

After considerable preparation and meeting all regulatory requirements, Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. became a Georgia not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Dodge County April 17, 1979 and opened for business June 1, 1979, as a certified Medicare Home Health Agency.  The service area included seven counties, Bleckley, Dodge, Laurens, Pulaski, Telfair, Wheeler and Wilcox.

The original Board of Directors was composed of Kaye B. Smith, R.N., President, LaMae S. Williams, R.N., Vice President, Hal M. Smith, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer, James R. Williams, Jr. and James H. Tison, M.D.  Dr. Tison was also elected to serve as Medical Director of the company.

One regulatory requirement was for the company to have a group of professional personnel, including appropriate community representation, serve as advisors to the agency.  The original Three Rivers Professional Advisory Board consisted of William J. Steele, Chairman, Ben Williams, Laura Mullis, June Williams, R.N., The Rev. J.R. Daniel, Dr. James H. Tison, Hal M. Smith, Jr., Kaye B. Smith, R.N., James R. Williams, Jr., LaMae S. Williams, R.N. and Jean Jun, R.N.

The initial employees of Three Rivers were Kaye B. Smith, R.N., LaMae S. Williams, R.N., Nursing Directors and Hal M. Smith, Jr., Executive Director.  Later, in June 1979, Jan Graham Williams of Chester was employed part time as secretary, followed in July by Sylvia G. Stuckey, Nurses Aide.  On October 9, 1979 Mrs. Stuckey met an untimely death due to an automobile accident.  This sad occasion was a tragic loss to her family and the new company.  The Professional Advisory Board and the Board of Directors passed, published and recorded a joint resolution of tribute to Mrs. Stuckey for her life of service to others.

The first few months of business were a struggle until the District Department of Public Health made a management decision to discontinue providing Home Health Care.  The transfer of patients from the Bleckley, Dodge, Laurens, Wheeler and Wilcox County Public Health Departments to Three Rivers gave the new company the impetus it needed to become a viable provider.

Initially the company provided only skilled nursing and home health aide services.  November 9, 1979 the company began accepting Medicaid patients and later that month offered the first physical therapy services and considered the possibility of opening branch offices in other cities.

January 12, 1981 marked a significant occasion for the future success of the new company.  On that day, Three Rivers made its first expansion outside Dodge County by opening an office in Dublin, the largest city in its seven county service area.  This greatly improved the company’s ability to deliver health care to patients in their respective places of residence in Laurens and Wheeler Counties.  The physicians of Dublin were supportive of this initiative by the company, ensuring the success of this venture.  Dr. Joseph E. Carruth of Dublin was appointed Medical Director for Laurens County.

The need for additional space in the Eastman office was apparent by 1982 and before the end of that year Three Rivers purchased and renovated “The Clinic” building, 201 Foster Street originally built in 1934 by local physician Dr. J. Cox Wall as a hospital for his patients.  The move was made into the much needed space in November 1982.

The year 1982 also signaled a change in the corporate Board of Directors.  Due to a new governmental regulatory restriction concerning referring physicians serving as a member of a Home Health Agency governing body and as Medical Director, Dr. James H. Tison chose to vacate his seat on the Board of Directors and continue as Medical Director in November 1982.  At the December 1, 1982 Board of Directors meeting, William J. Steele, of Eastman, was elected to serve as a director of the corporation, filling the vacated seat.
The company opened a second branch office in Cochran in January 1984 to provide better service to patients in Bleckley and Pulaski counties.

For Three Rivers, 1988 was a banner year.  After the initial start up period 1979 – 1981 the company experienced six years of moderate, steady growth until 1988 when the trend changed to significant increases in patient referrals and patient visits.  A branch office was opened in May in Abbeville to serve patients in Wilcox County and portions of Dodge and Telfair Counties.  And of great importance, after about two years of preparation Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. became the parent company of Three Rivers of Houston County, Inc., headquartered in Perry, Georgia and licensed by the State of Georgia to provide Home Health Services in Houston, Peach and Macon Counties.  An office was opened in Perry, Georgia in August 1988 with a full line of services offered.  By 1993 Three Rivers of Houston County, Inc. had branch offices in Warner Robins and Fort Valley.

To accommodate increased administrative requirements, Three Rivers acquired and renovated the old Eastman Post Office, built in 1935, on Main Street, moving in September 1991.  This building retains much of the historical appearance of its past and serves as the Administrative Office of the company.

After its initial start up, Three Rivers has enjoyed considerable growth.  The lion’s share of growth came during the five year period of 1988 to 1993.  January 1, 1988 the company employed 35 people and five years later, January 1, 1993, it employed a total of 130 people.   Three Rivers responded to continued growth in 1992 by building an entirely new 4,000 square foot facility in Dublin.  The new Dublin branch office was occupied in May and is located at 205 Industrial Boulevard in the heart of Dublin’s medical community, directly across the street from Fairview Park Hospital.  It is a “state of the art” home health facility, designed to facilitate the team nursing approach to home heath.  At the time the new Dublin office was opened there were 35 employees assigned to that office – the same number as the total employment of the company just four year previous!

Through the years, Three Rivers has not been without its share of difficulties and even tragic times.  Two occasions in particular, were the flood of July, 1994 and the extensive fire which destroyed most of the interior of the Dublin office also in July 1994.  Both situations demanded the limits of resources and teamwork of the employees and management to overcome such obstacles.  This was done in good fashion and Three Rivers is stronger today for overcoming such adversities.  The flood disrupted services but did not damage any agency property.  In due course, the water subsided and operations returned to normal.  The Dublin office relocated to adequate space in downtown Dublin the day of the fire, then moved back into the completely restored office in May 1995.

January 1, 1995 the company opened a branch office in Helena, Georgia to better serve the patients residing in Telfair and Wheeler counties.  In the spring of 1995, Three Rivers received accreditation with commendation for a three year period from Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO).  This represented a culmination of company wide teamwork involving every employee over an extended period of time.

February 1, 1996 Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. converted from a not-for-profit to a for-profit Georgia corporation.  The change had no effect on any aspect of the company other than financial and accounting.  The company’s mission, philosophy, delivery of services and the manner of conducting business remains the same.  On May 23, 1996 Three Rivers of Houston Co., Inc received a Certificate of Need (CON) to provide services to Bibb County.

Effective September 1, 1996 Paracelsus Macon County Medical Center, Inc., doing business as Flint River Community Hospital of Montezuma, Georgia., purchased Three Rivers of Houston Co, Inc., serving Bibb, Houston, Macon and Peach counties.  This transaction had no effect on the original company, Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc., Eastman, Georgia.

In 1997 Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.  This Act had significant impact on the home health Medicare benefit for both beneficiaries and providers alike.  It limited home health services covered by Medicare by doing away with venipuncture as a covered service and implemented an interim payment system that limited provider payment per beneficiary.  Ultimately the payment system changed from a cost based system to a prospective pay system which became effective October 1, 2000.  The Federal Medicare Home Health budgeted expenditures declined from over 20 billion in 1997 to 9.7 billion in 2001.  Approximately 1/3 of the nation’s home health agencies went out of business.  To cope with this drastic change in the Medicare program, Three Rivers downsized its operation by reducing visits approximately 40%, employees by approximately 1/3 (mostly through attrition), and did financial belt-tightening in order to maintain costs in line with the new Medicare payment system.  Three Rivers survived the drastic cutback in the Medicare program and continues to be a growing, prosperous company.  Unfortunately Medicare beneficiaries now receive less services than under the old system.

In December 1998, Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. became licensed and met all certification standards to provide a full line of home health services to Treutlen County.  The Treutlen county office is located in Soperton and is adequately staffed to meet an increasing patient census.

Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. applied for a Private Home Care Provider License on August 15, 2000.  After meeting all regulations, certification requirements, and inspection, its application was approved on October 17, 2000.

On January 5, 2001, William J. Steele retired as an employee of Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. and as a member of its Board of Directors.

After working with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia State Board of Worker’s Compensation and the Drugs Don’t Work State Director of Georgia, Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. was approved as a Certified Drug Free Workplace, as defined by OCGA 34-9-410, on July 1, 2001.

July and August 2002 was a sad time in the history of Three Rivers due to the untimely deaths of Cheryl L. Woodard, R.N. on July 29, 2002 and Leila M. Stuckey, Home Health Aide on August 2, 2002.   These employees working out of the Helena office both died in separate non-work related automobile accidents during the same week.  This was a tragic loss to both families and employees.  The Professional Advisory Board and the Board of Directors passed, published, and recorded a Joint Resolution of Tribute to Ms. Woodard and Ms. Stuckey for their service to the company and others.

Kaye B. Smith and LaMae S. Williams are graduates of the Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing.  October 12, 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of the institution that is now the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University.  In celebration of its centennial the college established a Hall of Honor to recognize outstanding graduates.  In its 100 year history the college has graduated over 6000 registered nurses.  Only twenty of these graduates were chosen as inaugural inductees.  Kaye and LaMae were both inducted into the Hall of Honor for their contributions to the field of nursing through entrepreneurial leadership.  This significant award and recognition personifies the dedicated service that these nurses have rendered through the years in managing and directing the clinical services provided by Three Rivers.  Congratulations!

As a result of this achievement, both Kaye and LaMae received the Vocational Achievement Award offered annually by the Eastman Dodge County Chamber of Commerce.

In 2002 Three Rivers Home Health Services, Inc. applied for and was approved to establish a new home health agency in Health Planning Area 6, and in November 2002 opened an office at 1760 Bass Road, Suite 103 in Macon, Georgia.  On December 13, 2002 Three Rivers Home Health Services met all certification standards and became licensed to provide a full line of home health services to Bibb, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs, and Wilkinson counties.

On March 7, 2003 Three Rivers Home Health Services was also granted a Certificate of Need to add Baldwin County to the service area of Health Planning Area 6.

The organizational meeting for the Macon Professional Advisory Board was held March 12, 2003 with Dr. Benjamin Kessler appointed as Medical Director and Mr. Gene Clance elected as Chairman for the Advisory Board.

Due to rapid and substantial growth in patient census in Houston County, a branch office was opened in Warner Robins, Georgia in September 2004.  In February 2005, a second branch office of the Bibb County agency was opened in Milledgeville, Georgia in order to better serve the eastern most counties in our service area.

Throughout calendar year 2004 the agency held numerous events and activities to celebrate and publicize it’s 25th anniversary in the home health business in middle Georgia.

Three Rivers was plagued with sadness in June of 2008 with the deaths of two prominent members. Ms. Annette Brown died unexpectedly on June 1, 2008 after working faithfully as a Home Health Aide for the Eastman office since October 16, 1990. The Board of Directors passed, published, and recorded a Resolution of Tribute to Ms. Brown for her loyal service to Three Rivers and others.

Then on June 10th, Ms. June Williams passed away. Ms. Williams was a Charter member of the Professional Advisory Board and later served as Chairperson of the Advisory Board, serving over 20 years. The Professional Advisory Board and the Board of Directors passed, published, and recorded a Joint Resolution of Tribute to Ms. Williams for her dedicated service to the company.

In late 2008, Three Rivers applied for a Certificate of Need which would allow for expansion into eight additional counties to be served out of the Soperton office. After a lengthy appeal process, the approval was finalized in December 2009 which granted Three Rivers Montgomery, Toombs, Emanuel, Candler, Tattnall, Evans, Wayne, & Jeff Davis counties. The expanded territory for Treutlen Agency created a need for more staff and a centralized office. It was determined the area would be better served by the relocation of the Soperton office to Vidalia which took place in September 2011.

2010 marked the beginning of technological change for Three Rivers as it embarked on an agreement to adopt a point-of-care system. The conversion from paper to electronic medical records was challenging but the investment proved to be a beneficial experience and furthered the company’s mission. The HealthWyse system was piloted first in the Soperton Agency in May of 2010 and later implemented in the Eastman Agency in September and the Bibb Agency in November.

In 2011, Three Rivers applied for a Certificate of Need for seven counties east of our current service area- Washington, Jefferson, Burke, Lincoln, Columbia, Jenkins, & Glascock. Washington county would be easily served by the Milledgeville office with other counties served by a new branch office. The CON was approved in April of 2011 with a branch office officially opening in Evans in April 2012.

At the age of 80, Ms. Thomasenor Pearson passed away on June 11, 2014. Ms. Pearson was a member of the Dublin Professional Advisory Board and served over thirty years. A tribute was recorded as a Joint Resolution of the Dublin Professional Advisory Board and the Board of Directors on July 25th, 2014. Once again, Three Rivers was hit by tragedy when Nancy Brantley, a home health aide from the Dublin office passed away unexpectedly on October 31, 2014. Ms. Brantley served her patients well during her twenty-one year tenure with Three Rivers Home Health.

In  March of 2017, Three Rivers was awarded yet another Certificate of Need to add Richmond County (Augusta) to its service area. This addition granted us the opportunity to serve a significant number of additional patients out of our Evans branch office.

From the establishment of Three Rivers to its present day status, the company has had a monumental impact on health care in the home and on keeping people at home, in familiar surroundings near friends and relatives. Moreover, the company has made a significant contribution to the economic stability and well being of its service area. Today, Three Rivers is a Joint Commission accredited, modern hi-tech health care provider offering a full line of consistently high quality services ranging from skilled nursing care and therapeutic services to home health/ personal support aide services to the patients the service area. Offices are maintained in Eastman, Cochran, Dublin, Evans, Helena, Macon, Milledgeville, Vidalia and Warner Robins. Home health services are delivered to 3500 patients annually residing in 36 counties in Georgia. Total visits of approximately 70,000 are provided annually with a staff of 145.

As of this writing, the corporate Board of Directors is composed of Kaye B. Smith, R.N., President and Chairperson, LaMae S. Williams, R.N., Vice President of Nursing Services, Evelyn Smith Huntley, P.T., Vice President of Therapeutic Services, Hal M. Smith, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer, James R. Williams, Jr.,  Hal M. Smith, III, and Marla E. Smith.


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