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Albany man buys 49 power beds to improve life for patients and staff at Leesburg health facility

Lee County facility will name its rehab wing after Walter Flint of Albany

LEESBURG — Walter Flint has spent a good part of his 90 years looking for ways to improve things.

For instance, he has what may be the only dishwasher in town that lights up when you open it. Lights can’t go inside the machine, but he installed them under the lip of the counter above the door, along with a pressure switch that keeps them turned off when the dishwasher doors is closed. When it’s open, they come on.

So, it’s not necessarily surprising that when he was undergoing rehabilitation at a Leesburg health center for an ankle that was broken in a car wreck in December, his mind focused on how to improve the efficiency of the hand-cranked beds that were being used at the facility.

His solution, however, did surprise everyone at Lee County Health and Rehabilitation Center. He wrote a check to replace the 49 hand-crank beds at the center with electric-powered ones.

Later this summer, Lee County Health and Rehabilitation officials plan to say thank you to Flint for his generosity by naming the rehab wing after him.

“He said, ‘You know what? This is something that could be better,’” center Administrator Kelly Burnett said Friday, adding that she was “absolutely” caught off guard by Flint’s solution. “Even while he was a patient here, he wanted to get this done.”

Lee County Health and Rehabilitation, a non-profit facility operated by Ethica Health & Retirement Communities at Gray, already had 11 power beds, which can cost more than $1,200 each. That left 49 hand-cranked ones. The installation of the new power beds has helped both the patients in their recoveries and the staff in providing care, Burnett said.

The power bed can be placed in a number of positions, raising the patient’s head and raising the foot area, including at the bend of the knee. The entire bed can be raised, and it can be lowered to nearly floor level.

“It’s been very beneficial for the patients,” she said. “The staff had to bend over to the crank the old beds. It could be a challenge for both staff and patients.”

Flint, who bought one of the beds for his own use at home, said Friday that the shortcomings of a manual bed were obvious to him the first night of his two-month stay. Because of his arthritis, he had to be repositioned frequently, which required him to call in a caregiver to make an adjustment. He said he told Burnett he thought he had the answer. “I said I’ll get them if you can find out what the cost is for me,” he said.

Flint had a lot of praise for the staff at Lee County Health and Rehabilitation and the care he received at the center, which opened in 1996. When the beds were ordered and installed, he said, the employees expressed their thanks to him.

“I never got hugged by so many girls,” he said. “Three of them even kissed me.” He quickly added with a laugh, “Near-sighted, I’m sure.”

Flint’s well known in Albany for several reasons. After he moved to town in 1948, the physics engineer spent the better part of two decades on the air with popular morning radio shows on WGPC (He bemoans the loss of “beautiful music” and local content on radio stations today) before starting his own company.

And for more than a half-century, families in the Albany area made an annual yuletide tradition of driving by to gaze at the Christmas decorations displayed at his home on Third Avenue. His house was outlined with radio dial lights soldered together on copper wire, while a waving Santa greeted passers-by in various red convertibles parked in his front yard. Flint has made fewer concessions to age than you might think, but he finally had to call an end to the task of setting up the elaborate holiday display in 2009.

He’s also given up driving and one of his assignments as a pastor. For decades, Flint each weekend would make a trip from Albany to Fort Gaines, where he preached at the Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning, ate lunch with members of the congregation. Sunday afternoons, he drove to Elmodel in Baker County to preach the Sunday night service at that Presbyterian church before returning to his Albany home on Sunday nights.

Flint gave up the Elmodel assignment that he held for 59 years, but he continues to serve the Fort Gaines church, where he has been pastor for 27 years. Now, however, he hires a driver to take him there and back home.

That’s because he decided not to renew his driver’s license when he turned 90 in February after completing his rehab. On Dec. 12 — a Thursday evening — Flint appeared at a Christmas program at the Wetherbee Planetarium at the Thronateeska Heritage Center in Albany. The next day — ironically a Friday the 13th — he was driving to Fort Gaines when, for a reason he still doesn’t know, he blacked out, causing him to lose control of his car. It slammed into a brick wall off the side of the road.

Besides deep bruises from the deployment of the airbags, his main injury was a broken ankle that he had surgically repaired with a plate at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. That injury required him to undergo the rehabilitation treatment once he was released from the hospital.

Charitable spending is not new to Flint, who has made donations to Camp Kirksey that have resulted in the Janey Flint Lodge, a meeting center named for his mother, and a chapel named for a friend, Freddy Wilson. He’s also endowed a foundation to help small Presbyterian congregations defray minister salary costs.

“The funds for the beds (at Lee County Health and Rehabilitation) are from what I call my tithe funds,” Flint said, explaining it is money that he sets aside to do God’s work. “It seems to me that’s what money’s for.”

Being recognized for it wasn’t a requirement, but it’s a nice legacy for which to be remembered, he noted. That will happen again at the Leesburg center. “We have plans to name the rehabilitation wing after him,” Burnett said, adding it will be called the Walter Flint Center for Rehabilitation.

Flint says he hopes others with means will be prompted by his donation to the non-profit health facility to fund other good causes. The idea is to leave the world in a little bit better shape than you found it.

When it comes to money, he said, “How you give it — not how much of it you have — is what’s important.”