Roy Turley wins Champions of Health Care Volunteer Award

Roy Turley adds up service, savings for CHI Memorial

Roy Turley, 92, volunteers in the pharmacy at CHI Memorial in Chattanooga. Turley is the Volunteer award winner for Champions of Health Care.

Roy Turley wants to make it clear that he didn't campaign for his Champions of Health Care award as the year's top volunteer. "But I deserve it," he quips.

Indeed, it would be hard to argue with the 92-year-old East Ridge resident, who has volunteered in CHI Memorial Hospital's Glenwood campus pharmacy for 36 years, racking up nearly 16,000 hours of service - and counting.

(Read more about how we're recognizing the Chattanooga area health care champions.)

His volunteer service of late is made all the more impressive considering that he has kept his regular Monday afternoon shifts despite a series of health setbacks serious enough to sideline a person half his age.

photo Roy Turley, 92, volunteers in the pharmacy at CHI Memorial in Chattanooga. Turley is the Volunteer award winner for Champions of Health Care.

"He'll come in no matter what," says Dr. Patrick Ellis, director of pharmacy services. "Certainly he's had complications lately, but he still makes it in most Mondays, working three or four hours. Only the open heart surgery a few years back took him out for a few weeks."

That was in 2016, and Turley met the news of the impending quadruple bypass with his customary wit. When his doctor told him test results showed he'd had a couple of heart attacks and needed immediate treatment, he recalls, "I told them, 'Just give me a couple of Alka-Seltzers, and I'll belch and go home.'"

His optimistic attitude is only part of the story. Colleagues describe him as a kind and giving soul whose incomparable work ethic and innovative problem-solving skills have bettered not only the health-care system but the community at large.

"He is one of the most dedicated, passionate and altruistic people I know who genuinely shares his passion to serve others," says Jean Payne, director of volunteer services, in her letter of nomination to the Champions of Health Care judges.

"He's a guy who truly lives our core values [reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence] at Memorial," Ellis echoes. "He truly lives his faith in everything he does."

As impressive as his 36 years of service are, there's another number that sums up Turley's value to Memorial. Shortly after beginning his stint as a volunteer, Turley came up with an innovative system to track expired or recalled medications and return them to the manufacturers for reimbursement.

"He started the return program," says Ellis, whose 14-year career at Memorial is dwarfed by Turley's tenure. "He's recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hospital. Now, there are companies that do this. But it was an innovative concept when Roy started it."

The savings program eventually earned Turley a nickname as the "Six Million Dollar Man," Ellis says in his letter of recommendation to the awards committee, "but the savings have gone well over that now."

Payne estimates that Turley has recouped some $9 million over the years that would have been otherwise lost as medications expired or were recalled. Previously, those unused medications were incinerated and the hospital lost those funds.

Payne says Turley has always been guided by his "compassion for people, a desire to serve and a concern for efficiency with time and materials."

As soon as he was old enough, she says, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean War. After his discharge, he was employed in railroad administration, crafting strategies for generating revenue. He retired at age 55, then he and his wife, Doris, began volunteering at Memorial.

Initially, he worked with the Lifeline medical alert program and helped in the pharmacy, organizing shelves, packaging unit doses, whatever was needed. He soon determined that returning unused medicines could be a boon for the hospital and began calling up drug company executives to negotiate deals.

"That's the way I do my work," he says. "I dare to dare."

Payne says Turley kept detailed records of his interactions. He developed relationships with pharmaceutical representatives who increased his success, learned specific procedures required by each manufacturer and knew each company's decision-makers if he needed to follow up.

Winner: Roy Turley

* Accomplishments: As a volunteer at CHI Memorial for 36 years, he has given the hospital nearly 16,000 hours of service and initiated a return program for unused medication that administrators estimate has saved the hospital about $9 million over three-plus decades.

Turley says he's especially grateful for the autonomy hospital administrators gave him to make the program work. "They turned me loose," he says.

In his early years as a return coordinator, it wasn't unusual for Turley to work 12 hours or more to make sure the job was finished before he went home. Now, some of those duties are automated, and some are baked into policies and procedures as Turley shared ways to make the pharmacy more efficient.

His duties at Memorial are not even his only volunteer service. He's active in his church, Ridgeview Baptist, and for more than 40 years, he volunteered with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance to help elderly and low-income individuals file their taxes. He has cut back on that assistance, but still finds time for a handful of longtime clients.

Though he's not planning to give up his main volunteer commitment anytime soon, Turley does seem to have an eye on the future. Six years ago, he convinced his newly retired youngest child to come aboard to help in the pharmacy.

"I'm the youngest [of three], but the first to retire," says Mark Turley, who was a supervisor with Tennessee-American Water Co. for 35 years.

The younger Turley says he had planned to spend his retirement golfing and playing with his grandkids. Then Dad began his sales pitch. Six months later, Mark Turley joined his father as a return coordinator in the pharmacy.

"I'm not quite as dedicated as he is," Mark Turley says. "I enjoy going in and working and everything, but once he's committed, he's in there with it. He's always been that way. It's a ministry to him is what it is."