Observation Deck: They thought they’d been forgotten

The last time I saw Tom Kelly was I don’t know when. But there he was – as well as other supply chain figures – gathered together in one mezzanine, sipping on drinks prior to dinner. The occasion was the inaugural Bellwether League induction into its “Hall of Fame.” The Bellwether League is the brainchild of Owens & Minor Vice President of Business Development Jamie Kowalski and Healthcare Purchasing News Editor Rick Barlow. Their mission: To honor those who gave so much to improve healthcare supply chain management.

And so I approached Tom Kelly, who used to be at Mass General. My initial reaction was, he looks exactly the same as when I last saw him years ago. So I asked him what he was doing. What was he up to? And he told me that, among other things, he’s teaching computer skills to jail inmates, mostly young kids. And that’s when it hit me: He’s still giving, still involved, still vital.

In his remarks, Jamie Kowalski noted that the people the Bellwether League was honoring had given much of themselves when they were associated with healthcare supply chain management. But they didn’t stop there. They continue to give of themselves today, only in new areas of life. That’s the kind of people they are, he said. And he was right.

There was Lee Boergadine, looking terrific. Turns out he is active in his church. And Tom Pirelli, who brought the PC to materials management, and materials managers to the computer age. He’s the founder and executive director of the Arial Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to working with kids, handicapped individuals and poor families. Alex Vallas, who for close to 30 years led materials management at Magee Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, still passionate about what’s wrong with healthcare (such as failure of providers to follow OSHA bloodborne pathogens guidelines) and full of ideas about how to improve things. Gene Burton, having just retired two years ago after founding a successful equipment planning firm – and that was after heading group purchasing for Humana and HCA. Bill McFaul wasn’t able to make it, but in his written remarks, he commented about what we need to focus on to improve this country’s healthcare system. Note he wasn’t talking about what has been done, or what he himself has accomplished. He was talking about what we need to do now – and in the future. Other inductees were Charles Housley, outspoken, rabble-rouser, never one to seek the top spot in a popularity contest, yet he did more to elevate the profession than anyone. The late Dean Ammer, the dean of materials management, whose books still reside on the shelves of many in the profession. And Don Siegle, another group purchasing pioneer, and a gentle, giving man devoted to education.

I think it was Bellwether board member Bud Bowen who noted that a common reaction among the honorees when first told they were to be recognized was, “I thought I had been forgotten.”

One more thing to note: To a person, each of the honorees seemed most emotional in their remarks when talking about their loved ones – spouses, kids, etc. – and the role they played and continue to play in their lives. Puts everything in perspective.

About the Author

Mark Thill
Mark Thill is the Editor of The Journal of Healthcare Contracting and has been reporting on healthcare supply chain issues since 1985. He is a graduate of Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., and he received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.