While most people think of babies and abortions, Tom Turner also sees senior adult care as being connected with a holistic understanding of the Sanctity of Human Life.
“In Job 12:10, it says that the life of everything is in His hands as well as the breath of all humanity,” he explains. “And so, as believers, when we view life and that life is from God — for God, it’s holy and it’s sacred. That means that we all have immeasurable value. The life of an individual has great value, regardless of our mental and physical abilities, regardless of our quality of life. We all have value that we offer.”
A native of Greenville, Turner has served for 13 years as president and CEO of Baptist Ministries of Aging, one of South Carolina Baptists’ seven ministry partners supported through their gifts to the Cooperative Program.
Whenever Turner speaks, one can quickly sense his passion for caring for senior adults — a passion that arises from a special relationship he had with his grandmother and watching how she aged with dignity.
“I was very blessed to have a wonderful, godly grandmother whom I got to know early in life,” Turner said. “We had her until she was almost a hundred years old.”
A part of that passion is making sure that senior adults are appreciated. “They add so much value to our lives, and we need to recognize that,” he continued. “They are lots of fun, and it can be so much joy to get to know them. … It’s amazing to hear their experiences and be able to learn from them.”
South Carolina Baptist Ministries of Aging provides care for senior adults at two retirement communities: Martha Franks in Laurens and Bethea in Darlington. Named after a prominent dentist who gifted the property, Bethea is the oldest campus, having started in the 1950s. Martha Franks is named after a missionary to China who felt called to start a retirement community in Laurens in 1985. Both campuses provide a full continuum of senior care and services.
“Our campuses are what are called life plan communities,” Turner said, explaining that senior adults can live independently at first, and then progress through various levels of care offered as their needs grow.
“A person can be independent in nature, but wants the security of knowing that someone is nearby, a staff is nearby, if they should need them,” he added. “So they might live in an independent apartment or an independent cottage. Then we have the care levels related to when someone needs assistance or care — that would be assisted living.”
SCBMA also provides memory care services and skilled nursing centers, as well as short-term rehab. “So we have the great privilege of seeing senior adults, in many cases, through the entire time of their latter years,” he said.
At Bethea, an updated skilled nursing facility opened in January 2021. The new nursing center features a new way of providing senior care called “the household model.”
“What that basically means,” Turner explained, “is that we have looked at the physical plant of the nursing facility and tried to make it more residential. It’s designed to feel more like your home.
“Every resident has their own home. They might live in a neighborhood with others close by, but they have their own front door and back door to their home that they share with others,” he added. “Then everything, care- and services-wise, comes from that home environment.”
SCBMA’s mission is to serve people where they are with dignity and respect and to ensure that they thrive and do so in a Christ-centered environment, he noted. “All that we do really starts from how we view being believers, and how we live our lives to serve other people.
“You’ve heard the saying that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think what makes Martha Franks and Bethea so very special is that it’s a family. When you visit, it doesn’t take long for you to sense the difference. … There’s a sense of community that they would’ve maybe had in their local church for so many years.”
Senior adults also have opportunities to continue serving. One example is a Billy Graham call center at Martha Franks. When Billy Graham crusades are re-televised, a phone number appears at the bottom of the screen for viewers to call for prayer or to speak to share a spiritual need. Those calls are directed to volunteers on the Martha Franks campus.
“We’ve had the great opportunity to see lots of lives changed through that call center,” Turner said. “We’ve been doing this since May 2013, and we’ve had just under 900 salvations come through that call center.”
The “of” in its name — South Carolina Baptist Ministries of Aging — is very significant, Turner noted.
“I really feel like it’s about staying active and useful. Oftentimes when you think of something, it’s for you, it’s being provided to you. But when you are part of something … that’s really what we believe at SCBMA, that those individuals who choose Martha Franks and Bethea as their home are part of a larger family. That family, of course, extends beyond the four walls of our campus. It’s God’s family. So, they can still be involved and purposeful.”
The culture often says to senior adults, “You’ve done your work. Now we’re going to place you on this shelf. Thank you for your work.” Turner, however, doesn’t think that’s biblical.
“I think that we can serve the Lord and minister and lead people to Him throughout our entire lives. Some of my best experiences are meeting with men and women who, in their 80s and 90s, are still witnessing for Jesus. They are engaged and active in service, helping lead folks to the saving grace of Jesus.
“That’s what our heartbeat is,” he adds. “Our core business is providing senior services. But beyond that, we want to be an organization that brings glory to the Lord because we are providing care and services, and, hopefully, being part of the Baptist convention, we’re just one more arm of the ability to share the gospel.”