At 73, Ralph Kelley's still trucking

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

IRONTON, Ohio - Ralph Kelley has tried retirement three times. The 73-year-old HME provider is the right age and his business, Kelley Med Care, is in good hands, including those of his daughter Kara Birkel. But Kelley can never hang it up for long--about six months, estimates his son Mark Kelley, who calls his father a "workaholic."
"When I try to golf, I hurt my back," said Ralph Kelley. "When I go out on the water, I forget to tie the anchor to my boat. Now, fishing--I have good luck with that. But you can only play golf, forget to tie the anchor to your boat and catch fish so many times. Plus, I enjoy working."
Ralph Kelley's not just putting in his time, however--he's still growing his business. He recently opened a second location in nearby South Point. Both locations offer residents in Lawrence County and parts of Kentucky and West Virginia a variety of HME, but the Ironton location has a pharmacy for home infusion therapy, and the South Point location has lifts for wheelchairs.
South Point Kelley Med Care is a homecoming of sorts for Ralph Kelley. He opened his first pharmacy there in 1959 when he was just 26 years old. Midway into his career, he shifted to a pharmacy-HME model, because it meant more one-on-one time with customers.
"When you're just a pharmacy, there's this fast-paced selling of cigarettes and cards," Ralph Kelley said. "You get customers in and out the door. With DME, there's a sense of humanity. You're helping them meet a need not a want."
Ralph Kelley has seen numerous changes in his 47 years in the HME industry. It wasn't until Medicare decided it would require accreditation, however, that he experienced real worry.
"I think the industry's becoming over regulated," he said. "I think accreditation is good and it's admirable, but I don't think it should be mandatory. There have been people in this industry for a lifetime. Now they have to prove they meet certain rules that they've probably been exceeding from the beginning?"
Despite recent challenges, Ralph Kelley remains focused on family and helping people. Of his four children, two work for him. Birkel, is in "charge of billing, sales, finance, even cleaning," she says. Mark Kelley manages the South Point location and performs much of the service and repair work.
"All of us--we've always enjoyed working with the public and helping people," Birkel said.