Alan Kirk: 'Distinguished Alumnus'
ELGIN, Illinois - When Alan Kirk graduated from Elgin Community College with high honors in 1985, he had no plans to manage the family's home medical equipment business.
Ironically though, it is his success in the HME field that led to his accepting in January the school's "Distinguished Alumnus Award" for 2006.
A totally surprised Kirk, COO of Total Home Health, didn't even know he was being considered for the award. Clandestinely nominating him were his mother, company President Carolyn Kirk-Likou; Communications Coordinator Holly Button; and his wife, Sandy. He was selected from among the college's 25,000 eligible alumni.
"Other nominees and winners have done extraordinary things, like conducting scientific breakthroughs and writing books," a flattered Kirk said. "I haven't done any of that."
Obviously though, the award selection committee found his accomplishments worthy of recognition and that gives a huge public relations boost to an industry that is constantly plagued by negative media reports and government crackdowns.
In presenting Kirk the award, Elgin Community College cited him for outstanding performance in his profession, extensive community involvement and devotion to family.
"Besides his dedication to growing a business that provides vital services to the Elgin area, Alan found the time to give back through participation in Rotary and the Jaycees, while also raising a family," said Alice Eakin-Malicki, president of the Elgin Community College Foundation and executive director of resource development. "He is one of the finest examples we have of someone who went through our system."
Kirk said: "This award is the result of having worked very hard to elevate the HME provider's image in the eyes of the community. Hopefully this will improve our image in Washington as well."
When he studied liberal arts at Elgin, Kirk never imagined that his future lay in home medical equipment. Neither did his mother, Carolyn, who spent 25 years teaching business at the college. She joined the company after retiring in 2000.
Kirk says Elgin provided a nurturing academic climate that was conducive to learning.
"I appreciated the relaxed environment and flexibility," he said. "My teachers were accessible for a lot of one-on-one time. At bigger universities, you have to schedule appointments and don't get as much time."
During his two-and-a-half years there, Kirk took advantage of an international study program in which he traveled to the Middle East and wrote a thesis based on the experience.
"Ironically, the theme of my paper was the effect of western civilization on the Muslim world," he said. "That trip had a profound impact on my life--it taught me independence, as well as respect for other people and cultures."
Kirk went on to get a bachelor's degree in psychology from Judson College in Elgin and while he planned on pursuing advanced studies, fate intervened and he ended up in sales at a local import company. Through a series of events, he found himself managing the respiratory company founded by his stepfather Manny Likou.
"When I came aboard in 1991, we had 13 patients," he said. "The company had some profitable niche markets and for the next couple years I just got comfortable with learning the business."
But in the mid-1990s, after attending a couple of Medtrade shows and being exposed to the possibilities of the marketplace, Kirk decided that the time was right to steer the company in a more aggressive direction.
"Something bit me--I wanted to get much more involved," he said.
As a result, the pure respiratory company started adding durable medical equipment to its product mix, getting into mobility, stair lifts and accessibility equipment. It was also one of the first HME providers in the Chicago area to enter the sleep market.
Kirk relocated the business, long based in the family's home--first to a 6,000-square-foot warehouse and then to a 20,000- square-foot facility in 2003. The company's annual revenues are $7 million; it employs 65 people.
Total Health's community outreach includes three patient support groups that meet at the company's office one a month--for COPD, sleep apnea and amputees. It received JCAHO accreditation in 1997.
Even before he was nominated for the alumnus award, Kirk proposed that Elgin Community College expand its healthcare education offerings to include a two-year respiratory therapy training course. Other HME-related programs, such as mastectomy fitting, are also being discussed.