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Originally published January 31, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Page modified February 1, 2010 at 12:11 AM

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An adult family home that works: stable staff, activities

Dee Burris' residences reflect the goals of the adult-home system: intimate care in a homelike setting where residents live as independently as possible within the bounds of their medical frailties.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dee Burris plopped into an upholstered living-room chair, but she didn't relax. Not with five seniors on the move.

One woman shuffled across the room, trailing plastic tubing that snaked around the corner to an oxygen tank. Others played bingo in the kitchen. Another washed her hair with an aide's assistance.

There are no slow days at this adult family home — The Gardens at Newcastle. The ranch home sprawls over 4,000 square feet with seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and a sun deck.

"This is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job," says Burris, a registered nurse who owns two other adult family homes. "You're never off the job. This is hard, hard work. It's not glamorous. But I love what I do."

Residents have personalized their bedrooms, bringing knickknacks, a favorite chair or painting. They partake in daily activities, such as exercise classes. A recent Wednesday was "beauty day," with women taking turns in a hair-dryer chair.

Burris' residences reflect the goals of the adult-home system: intimate care in a homelike setting where residents live as independently as possible within the bounds of their medical frailties.

Burris is one of hundreds of owners whose homes have achieved word-of-mouth praise and, state records show, sterling track records.

She accepts Medicaid and private-pay residents. Rents average about $4,500 a month, she said, although the price can be much higher if specialized care is required.

Burris worked for years in hospitals and long-term-care facilities. In 1995, she opened her first adult family home as a way to care for her mother-in-law, who had suffered a stroke. Burris' own mother now lives in one of the three homes.

One key to success is employing dependable staff, Burris says. While some homes churn through employees, she has kept a core staff for more than a decade, offering competitive wages and benefits.

"This is not the way to get rich quick," she said. "It took me a long time to get off the ground. You truly have to care about helping people."

Burris craned her neck to look into the dining room. Somebody was heading to the patio door and maybe needed help.

It was time for her to get on the move.

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