University of Rochester

University Mourns the Death of Robert Hurlbut

March 7, 2013

The University of Rochester notes the death of Robert H. Hurlbut, entrepreneur, long-term care innovator, and community leader. Hurlbut died unexpectedly on March 4, leaving an indelible mark on Rochester's health care, higher education, business, and cultural communities.

"Bob was a force of nature. His warmth, his passion touched all of us. Through his career administering nursing homes, he made an important difference in how many viewed aging. He dedicated his professional life to the idea that to grow old did not mean to lose connections to family, dignity, or life as you always had lived it," said University President Joel Seligman. "To the Rochester community, he was ever generous in volunteering his time, his talents, and resources. His leadership and kindness will be profoundly missed."

In 1964, Hurlbut became president of ROHM Services Corporation, rising to chair the organization that served nursing homes across western New York. In 1968, he founded Vari-Care, Inc., which oversaw 24 long-term care facilities and retirement complexes in several states. Through these organizations, he was instrumental in shifting the nation's model of late-life care from traditional nursing homes to senior living facilities. His acumen was recognized with his appointment in 1989 to the Board of Commissioners of the New York State Insurance Fund, a body which he later chaired.

A fellow of the American College of Health Care Administrators and longtime supporter of the University of Rochester, Hurlbut served as a University Trustee from 2001 to 2011, and then as a Life Trustee from 2011 until his death. He was a member of the Board's facilities and health affairs committees. He also served as vice chair of the Eastman Dental Center Foundation Board, and an inaugural member of the School of Nursing National Council.

It was his reputation for innovation and his insistence on dignified, respectful care that earned Hurlbut an invitation to join the University of Rochester Medical Center board in 1988. Over 23 years, he helped shape the future of the Medical Center as an active member of its finance, quality of care, nominations and board practices, facilities, advancement, compliance and executive committees. He chaired the URMC board from 2005 through 2006.

"Bob was a man with expansive abilities who cared deeply about our community. There are few aspects of life in Rochester that were not touched and enriched by Bob's wise counsel," said URMC CEO Bradford C. Berk. "With his commitment to research, continuous learning, and compassionate care, Bob is a major reason for URMC's success."

Hurlbut literally shaped the Medical Center's footprint by leading the planning and construction of the Center's seven-story Ambulatory Care Center, parking garage, Levine Lobby and Wolk Pavilion. He also co-chaired the first phase of the Medical Center's Campaign for Discovery, which raised well over $35 million to fund the Center's research strategic plan in the 1990s. He brought to the task an unprecedented tenacity, insightful thinking, and gentle sincerity.

The Medical Center was fortunate to have Hurlbut as a key architect of its geriatrics strategy, recommending new models of care that maximize the health and independence of the elderly. For instance, he was a staunch advocate for the creation of Highland Hospital's Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) unit, a place where geriatricians and staff work to avoid de-conditioning that can result when elderly patients are hospitalized for acute illnesses.

A devoted friend and steward of the University of Rochester School of Nursing, Hurlbut was a natural choice to chair the successful 2004 Future of Care Campaign, which raised more than $20 million to fund expansion and renovation of the nursing school. The new facilities have helped to spur enrollment in educational programs that provide a steady supply of skilled nurses to all of Rochester's health care providers.

Last May, the University of Rochester presented Hurlbut with an honorary Doctor of Science degree during the School of Nursing commencement. It was a well-deserved honor for a man who contributed so much to the academic and health care missions of the University.

Hurlbut's commitment to the Rochester community was far-reaching, including service on the boards of the Rochester Area Foundation, Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Monroe County Long Term Care Program, Lifespan, Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, HSBC Bank, the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, St. Mary's Hospital and Foundation, Roberts Wesleyan College, and St. John Fisher College. He chaired the board of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.