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Kenneth Roberts

Kenneth Roberts. Photo from Mather Hospital

Recently retired Mather Hospital President Kenneth Roberts was recognized by the Healthcare Association of New York State for his contributions to healthcare in New York State.

Mr. Roberts was one of two individuals to receive the HANYS 2022 Distinguished Service Award. Long-serving Assembly member Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee since 1987, also received the honor. 

Mr. Roberts retired in May after 40 years with Mather Hospital, 36 as its President. During that time, he oversaw multiple hospital expansions, quality and patient safety initiatives, and the hospital’s 2018 affiliation with Northwell Health. He served on the HANYS board of trustees for 10 years. 

“His political acumen and deep knowledge of public policy have made him invaluable in our advocacy efforts,” the association said in announcing the award, noting that Mr. Roberts also twice served as chairman of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council and served as a state delegate on the American Hospital Association’s Regional Policy Board.

HANYS’ Distinguished Service Award was established by the Association’s board of trustees in 1979 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated outstanding personal service in the healthcare field in one or more of the following areas: patient welfare, hospital administration, residential healthcare administration, local and state healthcare organizations, public service, and promotion of legislation relating to better healthcare.

Kenneth Roberts, whose 40-year career at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson include 36 years as president, was honored at a special ceremony at the hospital on May 24.

One of the longest serving hospital presidents in New York State and only the third chief executive in Mather Hospital’s more than 92-year history, Roberts retired at the end of May, according to a press release. 

“Detailing all of Ken’s accomplishments over four decades at Mather Hospital is an enormous task,” said Mather Board Chairman Leo Sternlicht. “Ken oversaw the growth of a community hospital into one of the most respected and highly ranked healthcare institutions on Long Island.”

Under his leadership, the community hospital grew into one of the most respected and highly ranked hospitals on Long Island. Roberts oversaw multiple hospital expansions, including the Frey Family Foundation Medical Arts Building which houses the Infusion Center and the Bariatric Center of Excellence; the Calace Pavilion, which houses the newest patient care unit 3 North, offices for the Internal Medicine Residency Program and the LIAP Conference Center; and the Cody Surgical Pavilion where surgical teams perform procedures in neurosurgery. 

During Roberts’ tenure, Mather was designated and redesignated as a Magnet® hospital for quality patient care, nursing excellence and innovations in professional nursing practice and was reaccredited in 2018; a teaching hospital with a growing Graduate Medical Education residency program; and multiple top “A” grades for patient safety from The Leapfrog Group; and earned top ratings for patient safety, to name just a few.

When changes in the healthcare industry made the hospital’s independent status increasingly untenable, he headed the search for a healthcare partner that led to the affiliation with Northwell Health. 

“When I sought the job of Executive Director at Mather Hospital, it was with the full knowledge that I would be following in the footsteps of a man who is so highly regarded and who has successfully guided this institution for decades,” said Executive Director Kevin McGeachy. “Ken made it a very easy transition for me by creating a culture where employees enjoy working and are encouraged to share their ideas and observations on how to do better every day.’

It was also Roberts’ leadership and vision that has guided the hospital to its largest, most transformational building project in its history, a 38,000-square-foot addition that will include a new 25,000-square-foot Emergency Department and an expanded surgical center. This new building, expected to open in 2024, will be located next to the Cody Surgical Pavilion.

“Mr. Roberts lasting impact was about more than bricks and mortar,” read the press release. “More than a dozen year’s ago, when patient satisfaction scores were not what he thought they should be, he undertook a cultural transformation program — our Voyage to Excellence — that engaged our employees and resulted in dramatically improved scores. His tenure also was marked by his management style. Whether sitting down with employees in the cafeteria or stopping them in the hallways to chat, Mr. Roberts had a very personal style that encouraged employees to think of themselves as a family. It is a culture under which it is not uncommon for employees to work at Mather for 30 or 40 years or more, and to encourage their family members join them here as employees.”

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. File photo from Mather Hospital

As the number of COVID-19 patients continue to decrease on Long Island, local hospitals say they are working to ensure that the public and patients feel safe walking through its front doors while keeping a safe and clean environment. 

Kenneth Roberts, president and CEO of Mather Hospital, stressed the importance of seeking out medical care.  

“It is safe to come back — whether it’s coming to the hospital or going to the doctor’s offices,” he said. “People shouldn’t neglect reaching out to their healthcare providers.” 

The hospital has been implementing the use of tele-medicine during the pandemic, but Roberts said there is only so much you can do remotely and that some things need to be done in person. 

“Being a part of the Northwell Healthcare system, we’ve put into place new processes and procedures at the hospital,” the president of Mather Hospital said. 

For hospital employees, they must attest that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms when coming into work, temperature checks are done before each person clocks in. 

Roberts said all employees and doctors are required to wear face masks. Those on the frontlines who may be in contact with potential COVID patients are required to wear face shield in addition to the n-95 masks. 

Another change at the hospital is the return of visitors. 

“We’re allowing two visitors per patient,” Roberts said. “Before they’re able to come in there will be required to answer a series of questions and their temperatures will be checked.”

As of now, those who need to go to the emergency room are being asked to remain in their cars until a hospital employee comes to them. 

Roberts said patients that come in on an emergency basis who may have COVID-19 symptoms will be tested immediately. The hospital will be administered a test and be able to get a result back in three days. 

In an effort to keep the facilities clean and safe, Mather Hospital will be utilizing PurpleSun devices, which use ultraviolet light to kill germs and provide rapid disinfection. 

Roberts said the patient feedback so far has been good and that a lot of them have confidence in the doctors and “have no fears.” 

With the restart of elective surgeries in May, the hospital has seen more people coming in to get important procedures done. 

“We’ve had over 1,000 operations that were scheduled, now we are playing catch up,” the president of the hospital said. 

Each patient scheduled for surgery will receive a phone call from a hospital employee and they will conduct a preprocedural interview gathering health history as well as a screening  for COVID symptoms or exposures. 

Once that evaluation has been completed, patients receive two separate in-person pre-surgical testing appointments. The first appointment may include lab tests, EKG and x-rays. The second appointment is for COVID testing and is scheduled 48 hours prior to the procedure. Patients are instructed to self-quarantine leading up to their surgery.  

“They’re going really well, a lot of the patients are grateful to get these procedures, but they also want to shorten their length of stay as much as possible,” Roberts said. “We want to continue to provide a safe place for our patients.”

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Hospital Prez Looks Back at His 34 Years, End of Community Hospitals Across LI

Kenneth Roberts, Mather Hospital president, signs a banner that will be hung shortly outside the hospital to celebrate its 90th year. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Julianne Mosher

It all started with a dream from a local businessman and third-generation shipbuilder who lived in Port Jefferson. 

John Titus Mather passed away in 1928, but he was a huge part of the shipbuilding community during the later 19th century and early part of the 20th century. Before he died, he knew that he wanted to leave a legacy that would help the Port Jeff community for years to come. If only he could see it nine decades later. 

Mather held its cornerstone dedication ceremony May 4, 1929. Photo from Stu Vincent

This year celebrates the 90th anniversary of Mather Hospital, formally known as the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, named after the man who envisioned the institution. His will clearly outlined that his family and loved ones were to be taken care of, and instructed his executor to “incorporate under the laws of the State of New York a nonsectarian charitable hospital, to be located in said village of Port Jefferson … so designed and constructed as to permit future enlargement, assuming that future needs may justify such action. It is my sincere hope that the citizens of Port Jefferson and vicinity will give their liberal and devoted support to said institution and endeavor to make it a success and a credit to the community,” the Mather website stated. Today, the hospital is decorated with a nautical theme to honor its founder. 

Opening Dec. 29, 1929, the hospital became a staple on Long Island, featuring 54 beds and state-of-the-art technology of its time. 

“Mather Hospital was the first community hospital in the Town of Brookhaven,” said Kenneth Roberts, president of the hospital. “So, for a long time, it was the gem of the community and it remains so to this day.”

And every 10 years or so, it seems like the hospital is adding a new service or wing, constantly evolving to become better than before. In 1962, a new surgical suite, emergency facility and an intensive care unit joined in. The expansion resulted in additional beds, totaling 110. A new psychiatric unit was added in 1973, upgrading the hospital to 203 beds and by 1997, the hospital reached its
current bed count of 248 spots. 

The reason for the constant upgrades was to continue better serving the community, the hospital president said. 

“Technology has changed dramatically,” Roberts said, “And has changed the delivery of health care here.”

Roberts became president of Mather in 1986 and has pioneered dozens of changes throughout the campus. For starters, people don’t smoke on the campus, anymore, which if one weren’t around at that time, came as a shock to the multitudes of hospital staff who weren’t shy of smoking. 

Mather Hospital was also the first hospital on Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, to have a successful in vitro fertilization program that started up in 1988. Being a leader in that program, it eventually became available elsewhere, so in 2008, the program closed to make room for others. 

“We just change with what the community needs,” Roberts said. 

Alongside the hospital, Roberts has also seen the community expand. 

Mather Hospital’s original facade. Photo from Stu Vincent

“I think it’s grown a lot,” he said. “Obviously the traffic, the expansion, the adding of lights on 347, the construction of the third lanes… there’s been a lot of growth in housing and in population out in this area. So basically, we made an attempt to change with the needs of the population.”

As the area grew, so did the competition from St. Charles Hospital down the road, and Stony Brook University Hospital just 15 minutes away. 

“We were the first community hospital and then St. Charles converted itself from a polio institution to a community hospital and we work closely with them to not compete in major services,” Roberts said. “But at the same time, to provide all the services that the community needed.” 

When St. Charles redesigned itself to a hospital in the 1940s, it actually ended up helping Mather which was at 120 percent patient occupancy. 

In 2013, it was recognized as a Magnet-designated hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which recognizes health care organizations for quality patient care, nursing excellence and innovations in professional nursing practice. 

Mather employs over 2,600 people, and has more than 600 staff and affiliated physicians. In 2016, the hospital cared for more than 12,500 inpatients and over 40,000 emergency patients. 

In December 2017, Mather formally joined the Northwell Health system as its 23rd hospital, something the hospital president constantly lauded. 

“It was a once-in-a-century decision going from an independent hospital to joining a larger system,” Roberts said. “Once you join a larger system, you’re in that larger system forever and it’s a big decision to make. We were extremely happy and pleased with the amount of resources that Northwell brings to the table.”

A group of nurses at Mather during its early years. Photo from Stu Vincent

Roberts added that there are no independently owned community hospitals on Long Island anymore. It’s a trend that’s predicated on costs and need, something, he said, a single standalone hospital would have a very difficult time doing on its own. Roberts said he sees a future where all hospitals and similar institutions are consolidated under just four or five health care companies.

“There’s a whole host of reasons why hospitals are going the same route, like all the other industries,” he said. “We see in the whole economy everybody’s changing: Airlines are basically consolidating, the big accounting firms … newspapers are consolidating.”

And although things have changed at Mather, Roberts is happy with what the
future holds. 

“I think that the future of Mather Hospital looks very good because of our affiliation with Northwell,” he said. “The services we will provide on a very high-quality basis, and we will continue to innovate and provide the services that the community needs.” 

He added that he is waiting on an approval to start a cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology service at Mather, and plans to grow its outpatient care over the next decade.

Mather Hospital changed its visitation policies Nov. 23. File photo by Alex Petroski

In the National Football League, it is widely believed that team success can be traced back to a long, stable relationship between head coach and quarterback. The longer those two have been working together and in perfect harmony, the likelihood for success usually goes up.

The board of directors at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital have followed a similar blueprint, and they couldn’t be happier with the results. Mather’s board chairman is Kenneth Jacoppi,  and he has held that position for about 10 years, though he began serving on the board in May 1977. Konrad Kuhn joined the board a year later. One year after that, Harold Tranchon joined. All three remain on the board of directors to this day.

“Honestly, when you have board members who have been there for a long length of time they have institutional memory and a long understanding of [the] changing field of medical care,” hospital President Kenneth Roberts said in a phone interview.

He has a long tenure as well: This June marks the 30th anniversary of when Roberts took over that post. Prior to becoming president he served four years as the vice president.

Jacoppi, 78, who was the president of his senior class at Port Jefferson High School and later went on to become a lawyer, reflected on his near 40 years at Mather and his lifetime in the community in a phone interview.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would serve this long,” he said.

Jacoppi referred to others on the board as his “Mather family,” and said that his fondness and pride for his community have contributed to keeping him in the position for so long.

During the decades under the current leadership team, Mather has earned a Magnet designation for nursing excellence, achieved the highest patient experience scores in Suffolk County, been recognized as the only hospital in New York State to earn nine consecutive A ratings for patient safety and quality from the Leapfrog Group and established a new graduate medical education program, among many other accomplishments.

“You have a stability you don’t have in most organizations,” Jacoppi said. “We obviously want to provide the best possible care to people in the area.”

‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would serve this long.’
—Kenneth Jacoppi

Jacoppi added one of the things he’s picked up in his experience over the years is to be “a bit more laid back and patient.” He referred to himself when he started as a “hard-charging young lawyer” who had to learn to listen to other viewpoints and think about the effect decisions would have on doctors and the community.

Clearly Jacoppi and the rest of the board have figured out a way to stay on top of their game in what he and Roberts both referred to as an extremely challenging time for health care.

“In the old days, the volunteers held grand card parties under the huge old tree on the Mather lawn that helped raise money to provide exceptional health care for the community,” Jacoppi said in a statement from the hospital.

Times may have changed, but the Mather board of directors has not.