Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012, 3:01 AM
As a designer and builder, William G. Burris Jr. clearly relishes details.
Demonstrating a recliner at a $30 million rehabilitation center under construction by his company in Voorhees, Burris explained the importance of the chair's control.
"Two positions. Back-up. Down-up. It doesn't take too much to figure out what to do here," he said.
By contrast, a popular recliner brand has eight buttons on the control and is "very confusing" for patients, said Burris, whose small Burris Construction Co. Inc. in Moorestown specializes in nursing homes and related health-care facilities.
The Voorhees project, nearing completion, is for Kennett Square nursing-home giant Genesis HealthCare Corp. The facility, with 124 private rooms, will house a new rehabilitation model, called PowerBack, for patients who have had joint replacements or heart problems and who are not ready to go straight home from the hospital.
Genesis was responsible for the clinical area's design, but the rest is Burris, said Paul Bach, a Genesis executive vice president and central-area president for the company in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"Over our history, we've worked with a lot of different contractors, but Bill is the most knowledgeable person I've ever come across when it comes to thinking about patient-driven design elements," Bach said. "He incorporates them without a lot of added cost."
Burris, 57, did not start out with that touch.
His father, William G. Burris, who died this year, founded the company in 1975, he said.
Now with about 140 employees and a five-year backlog of work worth $260 million to $290 million, the firm initially concentrated on government work, mainly schools, Burris said.
"My father was insistent that we do that type of work because with municipal, state, county governments, school boards, you knew you were getting paid."
In the early 1980s, after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started financing nursing homes 100 percent, Burris Construction shifted much of its business there.
But a contract to build a YMCA in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, in the late 1980s played a pivotal role for Burris Construction, which had worked on numerous projects with architectural plans that could not be executed within budget.
The Hamilton YMCA had a $3.2 million budget, but construction plans called for $5.2 million. Burris persuaded the YMCA board to let the company use its own architect.
"We were able to build it for $3.2 million," he said.
"It taught us that it should be an integrated process. This concept where construction is done and the parts are all removed from each other doesn't work."
Burris took what he learned and - with most of his employees in tow - went on to direct construction and development activities at two large senior-living companies.
First was Multicare Cos., which Genesis bought in 1997. From 1999 to 2009, Burris was executive vice president for construction and development at CareOne L.L.C. in Fort Lee, N.J., and a partner in a development entity with CareOne's owner, Daniel Strauss.
"My partner and I got a business divorce in 2009," said Burris, who then revived Burris Construction.
The goal was to start from scratch, "forget what we knew, and study what we didn't know. That's the real needs of the residents," Burris said.
He saw that all new hospitals had private rooms.
"If people are going to those hospitals with private rooms, what are they going to expect when they come to this level [of care]?" Burris asked.
Surveys of patients told him that the top complaints were the absence of a doctor for too much of the day and bad food. Genesis took care of the doctor, and Burris took care of the food by designing a kitchen capable of preparing meals to order.
"This is a room-service program like you would have in a hotel," Burris said. "Gone are the days where at 7:30 in the morning, we send tray lines out to 130 residents with whatever we think we can get away with feeding them."
Residents also complained about uncomfortable chairs in their rooms.
Patients get tired from working on rehabilitation, Burris said: "We wanted to make them as comfortable as we could."