More than a half-century ago, a young entrepreneurial pharmacist experienced an “aha!” moment while looking at the label on an oxygen canister.
“To be dispensed by or on the prescription of a physician,” it read.
To the pharmacist looking to grow his business, it was an invitation to expand into another arena: oxygen supplies and durable medical equipment. Shelly Prial accepted that invitation, and he's never looked back.
Indeed, if anything, Prial has since established himself in the home medical equipment industry as a person of “uncanny vision,” as Schuyler Hoss, president and principal consultant for Vancouver, Wash.-based Northwest Healthcare Management, says.
Prial's vantage point has been varied: pharmacist, HME provider, industry consultant, founder of the Homecare Providers Co-op, director of government relations for Graham-Field Health Products, HomeCare magazine columnist. But his viewpoint has always been the same: There is a future for this industry, both for large and small providers. How that future looks, though, is dependent on the provider's willingness to be stronger, do better, get involved.
Now, after years of championing, cajoling and challenging HME providers to do just that, Prial is retiring. He and his wife of some 58 years, Thelma, are leaving the HME arena in better shape than they found it.
When the Prials got into HME in the early 1950s, the vast majority of providers were small mom-and-pops with big hearts but little business acumen. Prial saw in them enormous potential to assist people and build strong businesses as well.
He soon became a champion of the industry. He got involved in pharmacy and HME associations, both state and national. As a consultant, he helped numerous providers expand their operations. Then, in 1986, he and Thelma, herself always a force for good in the industry, founded HPC, which was based in Melbourne, Fla.
“That proved to be the most exciting period of my career,” Prial says about the buying group for small, independent providers.
HPC was all about helping those providers build their business skills so they could compete in the strongly competitive HME market. HPC became part of the Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM Group in 1999. Prial expanded his consulting business, added his current lobbying title and became even more involved in industry advocacy.
Through the years, Prial has seen the advent of Medicare, the computer age, the development of life-changing HME such as home ventilators and portable oxygen, the rise of managed care and the threat of such initiatives as competitive bidding.
Always, he's had an encouraging word, a new idea for keeping on keeping on.
“I have always thought of Shelly as being the ‘happy warrior’ of home care,” says Hoss. “While he has provided strong and assertive leadership on key issues affecting home care, he has always displayed an infectious optimism and demonstrated a positive belief about all the industry can accomplish.”
Even now, as he retires from the industry he so loves, he has ideas for building HME business.
“My goal now is to see if I can bring to the industry the ability to work with home telehealth,” he says. “This is not a new discipline, but today it is rapidly developing into a major segment of our industry. I feel very strongly that providers can best supply and sell this equipment and service.”
And he has a final thought for HME providers. “Retail, retail, retail!” he says firmly. “Build new and better over-the-counter sales and belong to your state and national associations.”
Words to live by from Shelly Prial.
Prial Leaves Behind a Legacy, Colleagues Say
“Shelly Prial has been an institution in the industry; one of the strongest advocates for the independent provider. For many years, he has shared his passion for this industry and participated in numerous events and causes to improve the industry's lot, always pushing to get people in the industry more involved in state and national associations. We will miss Shelly's enthusiasm and endless energy.”
— Cara C. Bachenheimer, senior vice president, government relations, Invacare Corp., Elyria, Ohio
“There are many businesses in this industry … that Shelly has selflessly helped along. The list includes providers, manufacturers, consultancies and other service companies [and] spans the United States and several European countries. There are so many of us that it seems fair to say that Shelly has been a significant force in the development of this industry.
“Nearly 10 years ago, I moved into the same neighborhood that Shelly and Thelma live in. He is as passionate about our community as he is our industry. Having been able to observe Shelly so closely for more than a decade, my conclusion is that he is much more than a man dedicated to making our industry better; he is a man dedicated to making our world better.”
— Wallace Weeks, president, Weeks Group, Melbourne, Fla.
“Shelly Prial is an icon in the HME world. An articulate, passionate author and speaker, Shelly is leaving an indelible mark on our industry. Always searching for ways to make our voice heard in an industry known by the government as littered with crooks, he always made sure to let it be known that we do more than our fair share of good for people. Shelly will be missed, but his gracious legacy will remain.”
— Miriam Lieber, Lieber Consulting, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
“His achievements are truly legendary. His pioneering efforts in developing the Home Care Providers Co-op, espousing innovative concepts in marketing, advocacy for higher professional standards and promoting new technologies have changed our industry. He has brought to home care uncanny vision, unflappable motivation and unyielding passion over the years. He has also mentored and supported dozens of our industry leaders and inspired thousands more with his writings and lectures. The legacy of his work is a more professional industry that takes better care of its patients.
“In recognizing Shelly, one cannot overlook the role of his partner and wife Thelma. In her quiet way, she has had an equally profound impact on home care. As adviser, confidant and friend, she has helped keep many of us in the industry focused and on task.
“At the end of my career, I will be satisfied if I accomplish half of what Shelly has. We are a better, more productive and more compassionate industry as a result of Shelly and Thelma's many contributions.”
— Schuyler Hoss, president and principal consultant, Northwest Healthcare Management, Vancouver, Wash.
“Shelly is a legend — his energy and tenacity are infectious. While chatting at a national conference or catching up over the phone, I never failed to conclude a conversation with Shelly anything less than inspired and grateful to be working in an industry with such genuine and good-hearted people like [him].”
— Kam Yuricich, executive director, Ohio Association of Medical Equipment Services
“What impressed me the most about Shelly and still does today is his spirit for the industry. He always could find a positive spin on whatever was happening in the industry and talked, wrote and lectured on it. There are many people who do well at their jobs because it's their job: Shelly did very well because, I always felt, he loved his job, the people he worked with and mostly, this industry. Home care is definitely a better place because of him.”
— Terry Luft, owner/president, Central Medical Equipment, Harrisburg, Pa.
“For years, I looked forward to reading Shelly's newsletters that were always filled with great ideas in business, lots of humor and reminders to work together with our respective state, regional and national associations to make change happen — for if we didn't, who would?
“Since I began working with MAMES, I would share my weekly newsletter with Shelly. Several times Shelly would either call me up or drop me a line to thank me for including him in the communications and to share what a great job we were all doing … He would also share with me his stories of living in the Midwest and his fond memories of the people. With Shelly, it is always about the people!”
— Rose Schafhauser, executive director, Midwest Association of Medical Equipment Services
“Even though I have been away from the industry for some time now, I continue to read HomeCare each month and Shelly's column (which I read first). His wit and wisdom and calm in the face of the great pressures and concerns for the future of the home medical equipment industry are indicative of Shelly's love for the people of the industry.
“In the days when I was a dealer in upstate New York, Shelly would call on me, and it was always an opportunity to learn something important … His motivation to help us prosper as dealers was in the forefront of his mind — always. Shelly's desire to help his friends in the industry, whether he knew them or not, has not changed over these many years as his service to dealers has manifested itself in so many other ways.
“Few in the HME business have acted with more integrity and honor than Shelly Prial. On the occasion of his retirement, I am inclined to say, ‘well done good and faithful servant.’”
— Rev. Stephen G. Maddox, pastor, Bernhards Bay and Cleveland United Methodist Churches, Cleveland, N.Y.
HomeCare is pleased to announce Shelly Prial as the recipient of the 2007 HomeCaring Award® for lifetime achievement. Through his advocacy, lectures and writings over the course of almost 60 years in the home medical equipment industry, Shelly has been a constant source of positive and forward-thinking for independent HME companies. His endless enthusiasm for these businesses, their employees and the well-being of their patients is second to none, and his hope for their future unfailing. Congratulations, Shelly!