Andy Morris wants to change the image of the nursing home industry in Georgia — and he’s going to start with one of his facilities in Polk County, followed closely by changes to his latest acquisition in Floyd County.

Morris is the president and CEO of Reliable Healthcare Management, based in the old Floyd County Public Health building on West Tenth Street.

He has completed the acquisition of the Evergreen Health & Rehab Center, 139 Moran Lake Road, for $1.9 million. The purchase was done in the name of a Reliable subsidiary, Rome SNF Investments LLC. SNF is an acronym for skilled nursing facility.

The 100-bed facility on Moran Lake Road is one of two in Floyd County that were formerly owned by George Houser.

The other, Summit Health & Rehab Center, on Three Mile Road near Mount Berry Square Mall, has been purchased by UHS-Pruitt Corp. and is known as Pruitt Health Rome. Morris said he tried to buy Summit but was outbid by Pruitt, who took the property back from the mortgagors.

Houser was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison in August of 2012 after being convicted of Medicare and Medicaid fraud at the two facilities in Rome and a third healthcare facility in Brunswick. He was ordered to make restitution totaling $6.7 million to Medicare and Medicaid while he will have to pay more than $875,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Morris said the Houser case, in particular, gave nursing homes a bad name.

“You’ve just some bad apples in there that try to take advantage of the system,” he said.

That’s a part of the reason Morris is trying to make some major changes at the facilities he runs.

At this time, he is leasing the Moran Lake Road nursing home to Evergreen Health Care & Rehab. But Georgia requires nursing homes to apply for certificates of need — and Morris said about the only way to develop new facilities is to purchase existing homes and bed allotments.

He said he is planning to build a new facility and relocate the Moran Lake Road facility at some point in the not-too-distant future, much as he is relocating the Cedar Springs Health & Rehab facility in Cedartown.

Morris currently has seven nursing homes.

He got his first license in 1977, over in Cleveland, Ga., and still operates two homes there. He also operates Chulio Hills and Fifth Avenue facilities in Rome, Cedar Springs in Cedartown, a facility in Dade County and one in Atlanta.

To say that Morris is the owner is a bit of a misnomer.

“I actually gave this company to the employees, so it’s now an employee-owned company,” Morris said. “They all share stock in all those facilities.”

He has between 700-750 employees, and each year he gives out 100,000 shares of stock to them. The value of the stock is based on an independent valuation of the profits of the company.

“It’s a pretty good deal for the employees,” he said. “They don’t pay anything for it; all they’ve got to do is work here.”

It has turned out to be a win-win proposition.

“The longer they work here the more stock they get, so it’s an incentive to stay and an incentive to take good care of our clients,” Morris said.

New design for Georgia

Morris said the nursing home industry is heavily regulated so the image-change he’s planning is more of a cosmetic nature.

“It’ll be different than anything you’ll see here in Georgia,” he said. “I’ve seen some up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, out in Kansas. I went around the country looking at them trying to get an idea of the best way to do this.”

The design scheme involves a series of smaller modules with common living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens.

Each module might have as many as 20 clients.

When visitors come to see their loved ones, they’ll enter the specific module and not have to wind through a maze of hallways, nursing stations and the like to get to their family member’s room.

Morris said he’s also creating a culture change to where residents have more of a hand in directing their own care.

“Instead of getting up at 7 in the morning and lining up and going to the dining room, they’re going to be able to get up when they want to,” he said. “If they want to get up at 6 a.m. and go in and get whatever they want for breakfast, they’ll be able to. Somebody else may want to get up at 9 a.m., so we’re going to cater to how they want to live their life and make it more comfortable, dignified.”

The new Cedar Springs Health Care & Rehab will be relocated to Rockmart because of some land issues in Cedartown. Morris said new Georgia Department of Human Resources rules allow a facility to be moved anywhere inside of its original county.

“You have to have approval from State Health Planning and the Georgia DHR. There’s still a short process to getting that approved, and I’m in the process now,” Morris said.

His interior designer is meeting with the architect to look at wall finishes, the equipment and furniture. Once those matters are resolved, he’ll put out a call for contractors to bid on the work at the new facility.

Morris will have to go through the same process for the Evergreen facility in Floyd County. He said he’s got his eyes on two pieces of property but is not anywhere near ready to make a decision.

Morris got into the healthcare industry after both of his parents were diagnosed with cancer. Both were deathly afraid of being put into a nursing home, so he took them into his own home for a while.

One of his brothers was an accountant for the operators of a facility in the Cleveland area. They wanted to build another facility and were looking for someone to run it, so Morris signed on, serving an internship with them in 1976. He got his license the next year and helped open the new facility in 1977.

He moved on to become Medicare director of a firm in Sandy Springs that owned 75 facilities around the country.

“I decided the rat race was enough in Sandy Springs; the traffic was awful,” he said, so he started acquiring his own facilities — including Chulio Hills and Cedar Springs operations in 2000 — and moved to Rome.

He said the last four years have probably been the toughest of his career in the healthcare industry. But if he had to do it all over again, “I probably would. It’s been very good to me,” Morris said.