Fourth Anniversary at the Helm of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary…

A Q&A with D. McWilliams Kessler, president and Chief Executive Officer

D. McWilliams KesslerNew York, NY (July 2011) -- D. McWilliams Kessler joined The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as President and Chief Executive Officer in June 2007, bringing with him years of successful executive experience in expanding and operating nationally known health care organizations. As he approached his 4th anniversary at the hospital, Mr. Kessler took some time out from his busy schedule to reflect on his tenure at NYEE.

Q: Congratulations on your 4th anniversary as President and CEO of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. When you arrived here four years ago, what impressed you the most about the hospital?

A: What has really impressed me the most here – and this is really heartfelt – is the extreme devotion of the medical staff to this institution, as well as the skill of the nurses. It’s really remarkable how well recognized our nursing department is around the city.

Q: New York Eye and Ear served a record number of patients in 2010. Can you talk a bit about what the hospital is doing—including our Surgical Suite Initiative—to meet this increased demand?

A: The Surgical Suite Initiative is a $13 million renovation and expansion of our operating and post-operative acute care units – and is critical to our business expansion. Our current facilities expansion program on our main campus calls for adding additional ORs in 2013, 2015, and 2018. Additionally, a master building program is being done to consider doing more all at once. Also, we are opening more satellite offices in communities around the New York Metropolitan area to improve access to our superb medical specialists. 

Q: What in general is happening at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary that you consider most important?

A: I think the word renaissance describes it. We’re turning the place around financially. We’re into our third year of better than break-even operations. We are updating facilities and equipment more than we would have imagined just a couple of years ago. We are bringing new members on to the board and have activated several new board committees. And I‘d generally say there’s a spirit and cooperative endeavor among the medical staff, management and Board like never before. We have a lot of young, new leaders who are coming up in the medical staff as well, and we’re looking to support them in as many ways as we can.

Q: New York Eye and Ear Infirmary has long been a leader in basic science and clinical research. Can you talk about some of the exciting research going on right now?

A: We’re excited about our retina clinical trials in macular degeneration. Our glaucoma research is very impressive, as is our work in ocular imaging immunology and oncology. I think it’s worth noting that at the most recent Association of Research and Vision in Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting, New York Eye and Ear had 71 presentations, which I believe is probably a record. Then in otolaryngology, we’re performing excellent cutting-edge research on thyroid cancer and in otology. We’re taking advancements to counteract hearing loss – be it genetic or otherwise – from the research bench to the clinical setting.

Q: Of the many accomplishments at the hospital over the past four years, which are you most proud of?

A: What I’m most proud of is the turnaround both financially and in spirit at New York Eye and Ear. We’re revitalizing and getting philanthropy off the ground, and we’ve successfully established a good environment of giving, both internally and externally. In overall terms, the hospital’s accomplishments in resident teaching and research and growth of patient services are really impressive.

Q: You’ve been in the health care field since the 1970s.  What are some of the biggest changes–both good and bad—that you’ve seen over the years?

A: The biggest changes I’ve seen, especially in our specialties, are enormous advances in technique, both surgical and anesthetic, as well as technology. That’s been incredible. It’s moved much of the patient care from the inpatient setting to the outpatient setting, and has also enabled us to take care of thousands more patients on a yearly basis than we once were capable of doing.

As for some of the bad changes I’ve seen over the years, I’m very discouraged by the greed and the profit-taking that has entered health care, especially since the 80s with HMOs and the growth of for-profit insurance taking huge slices out of the available monies to devote to health care in this country.

Q: Being the President and CEO of a busy hospital has to be stressful at times – how do you relax?

A: I have a second home with a dock and a boat, and I get there for as many extended weekends as I can. And I play drums in a rock-and-roll band, the Salamanders. We do both covers and original songs. Actually, it’s a band I played in as a teenager, and we were recently asked by our little hometown community in Pennsylvania if we’d reunite for a community benefit. We’ve kind of caught on with the little towns in Pennsylvania…. We’re just a trio – one of the members is in Fairfax, Virginia, and the other is still in our hometown. When we decided to get back together, we arranged to rehearse over the Internet, and it was really cool.

Q: If you had to be doing something else for a career–and it could be anything –what would it be?

A: First of all, I have the job that I most wanted. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call for this. If I were doing anything else, I’d love to make rock videos. 

Q: Finally, let’s talk about your plans for the future. what would you like to see happen in the next few years?

A: I want to see our campus rejuvenated, and we’re working on plans for that. I want us to develop a strong presence in ambulatory surgery around the region. I want us to be pre-positioned for becoming a specialty player in the environment of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), which is just around the corner for us.

We need more philanthropic growth. We’ve got a good start, but we have a lot more distance to go –especially for us to get to the point where we’re developing more financial support for our education and research programs.


Judith and Mc Kessler at NYEE's 2010 Thanks for Giving Ball

Judith and Mc Kessler at NYEE’s 2010 Thanks for Giving Ball with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, who wowed the audience with an hour-long show, and master of ceremonies Dr. Max Gomez of WCBS-TV. The ball raised nearly $500,000 in support of our Surgical Suite Initiative. Chris Botti will entertain once again at this year’s ball on October 27.


McKessler ringing the opening bell at NYSE

Mc Kessler ringing the opening bell at The New York Stock Exchange February 15, 2008 to herald Low Vision Awareness Month and the February 25 opening of NYEE’s Ear Institute. From left to right: Lawrence Liebowitz, COO, NYSE Euronext; Ronald Hoffman, MD; Steven Schaefer, MD; Daniel Tandy, Senior Managing Director, Prime Executions, Inc.; Joseph Walsh, MD; and Simon Parisier, MD.  


Mc Kessler's keynote remarks delivered via teleconference to Show Chwan Memorial Hospital in Taiwan 

Mc Kessler’s keynote remarks were delivered via teleconference to representatives of Show Chwan Memorial Hospital in Taiwan on March 14 during which time Show Chwan announced a grant of $50,000 to NYEE in support of an international training program, and invited us to join with Johns Hopkins Medical Center as a “sister hospital.”


McKessler with Austin Pearce

Mc Kessler at our April 3 2nd annual theater benefit, with thirteen-year old Austin Pearce, who founded The Austin Pearce Kids’ Ophthalmology Fund in gratitude to Dr. Uri Shabto and Dr. C. Michael Samson, who saved his father’s sight. Austin and his family have raised more than $50,000 for NYEE, including helping us secure a $10,000 grant from The Edmond J. Safra Charitable Trust.


If you are a reporter seeking an interview with a doctor at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, please contact Jean Thomas, at (212) 979-4274.


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