A success at new starts

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Francis Kirley
Francis Kirley
What most people know about Francis Kirley pertains to his success: how he is the American Health Care Association PAC chairman, and how he created one of the top 25 nursing home chains in the United States, Nexion Health.

Nexion's rise started when Kirley lost his job during a restructuring at Integrated Health Services in 1999.
“I told my wife, ‘I'm going to start a company,'” Kirley recalls. “The industry was in chaos; companies were in bankruptcy. We were a start-up company, and I worked in my basement.”

What is less well known about Kirley is that starting over is a familiar concept. He and his older sister lost their father when Kirley was 13. Then, their mother died when he was 16. They went to live with his aunt, uncle and four cousins in Massachusetts.

“Most people don't know my parents died when I was a kid, but it was a fabulous childhood,” he says. “I didn't know anything different.”

Kirley started working in a pharmacy as a teenager, and, under the mentorship of the drugstore owner, decided to become a pharmacist. Determined to receive an education, he picked tobacco and worked in the pharmacy at night to put himself through school, first at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy-Hampden and then to complete his master's in business administration.

By age 27, he had moved on to Martha's Vineyard Hospital and become an interim administrator. In the 1980s, he embraced working on the rehabilitation side of hospitals until he joined Integrated Health Services in 1993.

After 12 years, the Sykesville, MD-based Nexion now has 40 facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Colorado, with annual revenue of around $230 million. At 62, Kirley travels frequently to visit the facilities.

His pace has earned admirers that include Joseph A. Donchess, the executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, where Kirley has served on the board of directors.

“He's the kind of guy who will roll up his sleeves and get the job done. He loves to know the residents in his facilities,” Donchess says. “How he keeps the schedule he keeps, I don't know. I'd be six feet under by now. He's knowledgeable and experienced.” 

Kirley says he's been mentoring and growing a young team of executives at Nexion. He continues to love his work and says he's most proud of making a difference in the lives of the elderly.

“It's been a great thing to see quality of life get better. I look at my employees as family,” he says. “Not having parents in my life, I always thought about business as needing people to care for them. I believe in going the extra yard for people.”

That said, he's also taking time to enjoy what he's built with his wife of 34 years, Marian. Raising their three children — Bevan, Katie and Chris — showed “what happiness could be,” he says. With his children now grown, the Kirleys enjoy being Baltimore Ravens season ticket holders, and they are building a wine cellar. Kirley loves golf and exercises every day.

“We both have great health, and hope there are 30 more years like this,” he says. “We're just living life like there's a long time ahead of us.”


Completes bachelor's degree at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy

Serves as director of pharmacy at Ludlow Hospital Society

Finishes MBA at Western New England College

Begins as president/CEO and oversees conversion of Fairlawn Rehabilitation Hospital in Worchester, MA, to an 80-bed freestanding rehabilitation hospital

Leaves Quorum Health Resources in Boylston, MA, where he had developed an inpatient ventilator care unit and a rehabilitation unit

Launches Nexion Health in Sykesvile, MD

Elected to the American Health Care Association Board of Governors and Executive Committee; also serves as AHCA PAC Chairman