OTSEGO COUNTY CHAMBER
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Helios Care is not this captain’s first ship.
A native of Weirton, W.Va., Dan Ayres, with a Marshall University journalism degree and three years at his hometown Weirton Daily Times, joined the Navy in 1982, retiring from the Navy reserves a quarter-century later as a commander.
“I was a surprise baby,” said the youngest son of steel worker Earl Ayres and homemaker Julia. He was born 15 years after his brothers, who set a high standard: One became an IRS chief counsel, another a CEO of an international consultancy, the third an IBM vice president.
Tough acts to follow, but Dan caught the Ayres fever.
He picked up his father’s gregariousness: “All you have to do is say hello to people,” Earl would say. And his mother’s resolve: “Be a leader, not a follower.”
The parents drummed a message into all the boys: “You’re going to go to college; and YOU’RE going to pay for it.”
Within five years in the Navy, mostly aboard ship – Dan also met his wife, Sheila, then a waitress at the officers’ club in Norfolk, Va.; she’s now an RN and Bassett administrator – Ayres was promoted to commanding officer at the Naval Reserve Center in Burlington, Vt., on Lake Champlain.
“I loved being on ship,” but when the Navy summoned him back to sea in 1990, he wasn’t ready.
Then Sheila alerted him to the support services VP vacancy at the Fanny Allen. What did he know about running a hospital? Sheila replied, “It’s like a ship” – complex, lots of moving parts, 24-7 – “that doesn’t go to sea.”
He applied and got the job, and he a met range of cost, quality and design parameters as Mary Fletcher’s campus expanded.
After a stint with a contract management firm, Intellex, he was recruited to his first hospital presidency in 2004 – he had worked for now-retired Bassett CEO Bertine McKenna at Fanny Allen. He took the helm at O’Connor Hospital in Delhi, adding the Tri-Town Hospital presidency in 2014.
Recruited away in 2014 to Summersville Regional Medical Center – his West Virginia’s hometown hospital – he had a plan that involved cuts to make the hospital solvent, in the process becoming “very, very unpopular.”
The phone rang, and it was Lola Rathbone, his Catskill Hospice predecessor; he had served on its board for six years. “We want someone who knows something about hospice care and where it’s going,” she said.
“Now, I’m interested,” said the man with a plan, his wheels turning.