By Missy Burchart

In April of 1966 Dr. John D. Burns and his wife, Ethel B. Burns opened the Burns Nursing & Rehab in Russellville, Ala.

Dr. John Burns greets Santa during a visit to Burns Nursing & Rehab.

Dr. John Burns greets Santa during a visit to Burns Nursing & Rehab.

Dr. Burns was a respected physician in Russellville and ran a private hospital. His wife, a registered nurse, worked alongside him throughout his career. Their daughter, Ginny was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. While it was never said by her parents, Ginny’s sister Martha DeArman, the current owner of Burns Nursing & Rehab, believes the nursing home was opened as a way to guarantee care for their child long after they had passed. Thus began a legacy that would span 50 years of care for the folks in their rural Alabama community.

“I was a teacher when my parents asked me to take a leave of absence to give nursing home administration a try,” said Mrs. DeArman who took ownership of Burns in 1969. “Every day since that first day I’ve looked forward to going to work here. It was a natural fit.”

She views resident life from two perspectives – as an administrator who runs a business and as a daughter and sister who’s loved ones resided here. For Mrs. DeArman, Burns Nursing & Rehab isn’t just an institution, it’s a home when their residents can no longer live on their own. It’s a place of refuge where their rehabilitation patients can feel safe and secure throughout their recovery.

Ethel Burns with Ginny Burns, right, and a nurse at Burns Nursing & Rehab.

Ethel Burns with Ginny Burns, right, and a nurse at Burns Nursing & Rehab.

Mrs. DeArman’s sister did, in fact, come to stay in the home until she passed away. Her mother lived in the home for two weeks receiving hospice care for cancer, and her father also resided in the home until his death in 1990.

Mrs. DeArman’s philosophy is that care goes beyond their walls and encompasses the entire family. She believes they have two priorities. Number one is caring for the resident and number two is the resident’s family or sponsor. She firmly believes in meeting the needs of both so much so that they have recently added a chaplain to their staff to care for spiritual needs.

What drives her commitment?

“We’re caring for our friends and neighbors,” says DeArman. “Russellville is a close-knit community and I always want to know that I’m giving the best care to their loved ones when I see folks at church, in the grocery store or at the local diner. It’s what our family does.”

Martha DeArman in her office at Burns Nursing & Rehab, circa 1970s.

Martha DeArman in her office at Burns Nursing & Rehab, circa 1970s.

It is indeed what they do as a family. In 2003 Mark DeArman starting working at the home. Much like his mother before him, he was recruited away from a successful career in the banking and insurance world to join the family business. In 2011 Mark took over as the nursing home administrator.

“I grew up here,” said Mark. “We were always here for holidays, visiting my Aunt Ginny and my grandparents. I even learned how to ride my bicycle on the sidewalk outside.”

Mark will tell you he feels as though this was something that he was meant to do, and not just because it’s the family business. He feels that there is nothing better than providing care for the people of his hometown. Perhaps that belief came from the role models – his grandparents and parents. He’s very proud of the work his grandparents started and his parents kept going and growing.

Cam DeArman walking the halls of Burns Nursing & Rehab in the 1970s.

Cam DeArman walking the halls of Burns Nursing & Rehab in the 1970s.

But both Mrs. DeArman and Mark will tell you that changes in the nursing home industry over the years has made maintenance and growth a challenge. They have great respect for the officers of the Alabama Nursing Home Association and are grateful for the support they receive as members.

“The ANHA has been an incredible asset to our business,” says Mrs. DeArman. “They keep us updated on new regulations, keep us current on new information, and provide continuing education for our employees. As a result, we can provide the best possible care for our constantly changing demographic of residents. They help us meet their needs. They inspire us to keep going year after year.”

The Burns/DeArman family is proud of the legacy they’ve created in their small town. It’s a legacy they intend to pass to down to future generations. Of the three sons, Mark and his brother Cam DeArman are licensed nursing home administrators. Mrs. DeArman is very proud of her grandson who is just starting to learn the business by spending time washing dishes and doing laundry in the home.

“Fifty years is a long time to be in this business,” Mrs. DeArman says. “But I know this was part of God’s plan. If you follow His plan you find the joy in your life. What we do brings me great joy.”

Editor’s Note: Missy Burchart, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.