NEXT CHAPTER: West Point’s Dr. Joe Downs retiring after 42 years

Published 9:00 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

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For most people, transition periods in life can be scary. For Dr. Joe Downs, these are times for anticipation and reflection. 

Downs, a native of West Point, pursued a career in geriatrics health care. Now, he is retiring after almost 42 years but to him it doesn’t feel like an end of things. 

“I’m looking forward to the next chapter myself,” Downs said.

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Downs began his career at the EAMC Lanier hospital before moving on to specialize in geriatrics, hospice and palliative care. Along with several other community members, he organized the Chattahoochee Hospice Organization. 

Soon, Downs realized that moving into hospice and nursing home care was a natural progression for him. Growing up, he often visited a nursing home with his grandparents. 

“When you are used to that as a child, it’s not so difficult to be around people like that as an adult,” Downs said. “And people don’t want to think about the nursing home. I get it, but the nursing home needs love too.”

Though she never lived there, his grandmother took Downs and his sister to visit her friends at the nursing home. He spent a lot of time getting to know the residents and brightening their day.

“She played the piano for people, and they’d enjoy seeing her,” he said.

Early in his hospice endeavors, Downs visited a patient. He wanted to check on her to make sure that she was receiving the care she needed from home.

“She said, ‘Whatever happens, Doctor, I’m here in my home and it’s going to be all right because this is where I want to be,’’ Downs said. “So I knew then that we were on the right track with the end of life care. People do want to be in their homes.”

Over the years, that certainty has only become stronger. Downs said nursing homes aren’t something to fear. Instead, people should “look at life expectantly.” He emphasized focusing on preventing health issues like cardiac disease and dementia.

“I don’t think people should be afraid of the nursing home. We’ve had a lot of changes in the nursing home over the years for the better,” Downs said.

Hospice and geriatric care can also help in maintaining a supportive network and social structure. When Downs visited the nursing home with his grandmother, her cheerfulness would brighten everyone’s day. 

“Laughing is kind of my thing,” Downs said. “They say it is healthy for you to laugh. I didn’t know that when I started laughing. Now, people that have studied it say it’s healthy.”

As last year came to a close, Downs and his wife decided it was time to hang up his hat. They wanted to be around for their six grandchildren. 

“It’s been kind of tough to say goodbye to people that you’ve been taking care of for 20 and 30, and some of them, 40 years,” Downs said. “I started off with some of these people as teenagers, and they’re 50 something now.”

Downs has also been a city council member for West Point for over 20 years. He has two more years in his term. He won’t be leaving that position. 

“He’s been a huge asset to the entire community and there’s a lot of people who are going to greatly miss him,” said Mayor Steve Tramell, who is glad he will get to keep working with Downs on the council. 

As he gets ready to move on, Downs said he will still be around to see people. He said he sees this time as something to look forward to and a chance to reflect on all the people who have supported him in the past.

“You look back and you realize how many people helped you along the way,” Downs said.