Gary Kelso, CEO, Mission Health Services and Community Nursing Services

Growing up, Mission Health Services CEO Gary Kelso recalls his mother, Cloyda, always by his side. 

She was the primary breadwinner for most of Kelso’s childhood after his father suffered a work accident. 

She spent her days as a contract negotiator for the Air Force working on planes damaged during World War II. 

“Yet she always found time for her family,” Kelso recalls. “I learned the value of work and willingness to tackle any job because of her.”

Five years before her death in 2017, his mother started experiencing dementia, which it took its toll — on both of them.

“It’s hard looking into the eyes of someone you love, knowing the light is slowly dimming,” Kelso says. “But throughout her journey she showed me humility, strength and compassion for my journey in long-term care.”

It’s a trip that began when Kelso’s grandmother was dealing with her own dementia diagnosis years earlier, in an institutional skilled nursing facility that was far from patient-centered, he remembers. 

“It solidified the career path I was on but also my purpose as a healthcare administrator — that others wouldn’t have this same experience,” he says.

Mission Health Services’ nine senior care communities in Utah and Wyoming are Eden Registered homes focused on improving the well-being of its elders (residents) and care partners (staff).

“Nursing homes really can be vibrant places where life is worth living,” he says.

Longtime colleague Brent Jones, president and COO of Community Nursing Services, says Kelso’s dedication to patient-centered care is revolutionary.

“Gary alone has championed the Eden Alternative in the state of Utah, where most other companies have not,” Jones says. “He is extremely committed to patient choices and overall good care.”

In his nearly 20 years as CEO of the nonprofit Mission Health Services and Community Nursing Services, Kelso has significantly reduced staff turnover and created homes where residents thrive. 

Throughout his decades of working to change the culture of long-term care in Utah, Kelso, 69, also has always been a family man. With his wife of 42 years, Mary Claire, he has raised eight children, including two of his grandchildren, whom they adopted after their son Chad died in a traffic accident. 

Musical theater fans also may already be familiar with Kelso’s son Ethan, winner of the 2019 Jimmy Award for Best Musical Theater Actor in the country among high school students. 

Music seems to be in the family’s blood. Shortly after graduating from college, Kelso took several months off to pursue his own love of music, forming a band and playing guitar and bass full time at a local ski resort — where he just happened to meet his future wife. These days, he plays in three bands and has toured Ireland with them twice.

“Music is my mental health,” he says. Well, music and motorcycles, it seems. About 15 years ago, he rode his Harley-Davidson from Utah to Alaska. 

“It was one of those adventures that you think about for a long time and then you have a friend who says, ‘Hey, I want to do something like that, too,’ and then all of a sudden you have eight guys taking a month off work to jump on their motorcycles and ride up the Alaska Highway,” Kelso says. “It was one of those things I’m so glad I did but will probably never do again in a million years.”

Resume: 1975, Earns bachelor’s degree in gerontology and sociology from Weber State University; 1978, Named Administrator and Executive Director of Mt. Ogden Health and Rehabilitation Center; 1997, Becomes President/CEO and Founder of American Healthcare Associates, Inc.; 2000, Named CEO of Mission Health Services and Community Nursing Services; 2003, Starts six-year stint as president of the Utah Health Care Association; 2007, Certified as an Eden Mentor; 2010, Elected to American Health Care Association Board of Governors; 2019, Receives award for Utah Best of State for a Skilled Nursing Company for the fifth time.