The Kessler Story

The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation first open with 16 beds in 1948.


Henry H. Kessler was a man of great vision. From his early days in medical school to his work as an orthopedic surgeon during World War II, Dr. Kessler found that much of the rehabilitation of individuals with catastrophic injuries and illnesses focused on their physical recovery.

He, however, believed that rehabilitation – to be effective – must address the overall needs of those with physical disabilities and functional limitations. He was determined to "create a program to treat the whole individual, one that would help him or her successfully regain physical, mental, social, vocational and economic usefulness to the fullest possible degree." And in 1948, that became the guiding principle on which the Kessler organization was founded.

A New Era In Medical Rehabilitation

Henry H. Kessler, M.D. helped establish a new era in rehabilitation in 1949.

With the support of local business and community leaders, Dr. Kessler purchased a small, two-story brick building on a hillside in suburban West Orange, NJ for $125,000. On January 3, 1949, the first patients were admitted to the 16-bed Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation … and a new era in rehabilitation began.

Dr. Kessler established a five-fold mission for the new hospital: patient care, community education, the training of rehabilitation personnel, research and international programming. But patient care always came first – just as it does today.

He further realized that he would need to assemble a group of specialists to provide the comprehensive services patients with diverse conditions and concerns would require. Dr. Kessler sought the expertise of orthopedists, urologists, neurosurgeons, and internists, as well as neurologists and psychologists. He drew on the experience of nurses, therapists, prosthetists and other clinicians. And he developed a unique interdisciplinary team approach to rehabilitation, which became the model on which the provision of rehabilitation services is now based.

The first patients were coalminers who had experienced spinal cord injuries and amputation. But soon, a Juvenile Amputee Clinic was established to provide treatment for such children's medical needs, as well as to offer support to their families. The core programs at Kessler Institute continued to expand to include state-of-the science care, research, training and education for individuals with brain injury, stroke, neurological disorders and musculoskeletal conditions.

Over the past 60 years, Kessler Institute has grown dramatically. An increased demand for physical medicine and rehabilitation services, the development of specialized treatment programs and waves of technological advances drove this expansion. During the 1980s, three additional inpatient hospital campuses were opened in East Orange, Saddle Brook and Chester, NJ, and by 1990, Kessler, with a total of 322 beds, was one of the largest and most recognized rehabilitation organizations in the nation, and the world.

Therapy room sceneAlthough patients travel from throughout the state, across the country and even from international destinations to benefit from Kessler care, the organization's growth was not confined to inpatient rehabilitation.  To best serve our local communities, specialized outpatient satellites – Kessler Rehabilitation Center – were established. In fact, these outpatient centers have grown from just four locations in 1995 to more than 75 throughout northern New Jersey today.

In 1990, Kessler received federal designation as a "Model System" for the treatment and research of spinal cord injury, and a decade later, was awarded similar recognition for Brain Injury Rehabilitation. Today, Kessler is one of only seven dual-model systems in the nation to be recognized by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

A Unique Model of Rehabilitation Care

Much of the growth in the outpatient arena, as well as in other areas of medical rehabilitation services, can be attributed to Kessler's strategic business development initiatives. In 1998, Kessler, which had been founded as a not-for-profit organization, underwent a major restructuring through which it became a for-profit corporation. This helped to position Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation for further expansion both clinically and geographically through acquisitions and joint ventures, as well as start-up operations in those communities or regions where such services were needed.

At that same time, two other entities were formed: Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research and Education Corporation (KMRREC), a non-profit medical research organization; and The Henry H. Kessler Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises and distributes funds to support rehabilitation research, education and community programs. The HHK Foundation also became the sole shareholder of Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation stock and the parent company of both the Corporation and KMRREC.

Examples of the organization's growth include Kessler Onsite Rehabilitation Services, which provided contract physical, occupational and speech therapy services to individuals in hospitals, senior care centers, and nursing homes and specialized pediatric services to children in schools, daycare centers or in the home; Kessler ArgosyHealth, which delivered custom-tailored physical and occupational therapy, ergonomics and injury prevention services to workers in offices, factories and other jobsites across the country; and Kessler Care Centers, long-term skilled nursing facilities. Kessler also continued to offer patients a complete line of home medical equipment, prosthetics and orthotics, and infusion/ intravenous services through Kessler Wilpage Medical. In addition, through a joint venture with Adventist HealthCare, Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation opened the 55-bed Kessler Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital in Rockville, MD, in 2001.

Change & Challenges

Rocky Ortenzio with groupIn 2003, Kessler was acquired by Select Medical, one of the nation's leading providers of specialty health care that includes rehabilitation hospitals, long-term acute care hospitals, outpatient centers and contract services. This marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Kessler organization. With a shared vision and the support of Select Medical, Kessler has continued to meet the challenges of a changing health care landscape and to respond the increasingly complex needs of our patients.

Over the past 60 years, Kessler has developed the standard for the delivery of quality rehabilitative care that is unsurpassed in the industry. That model, which combines clinical expertise, excellence of care and leading-edge technologies, continues to distinguish Kessler among it colleagues. And the principles upon which the organization was first founded remain the driving force within the Kessler organization today.

A Kessler Timeline

Key Dates In Kessler's History


1948 Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation founded in West Orange, NJ.
1949 First patients admitted on January 3; hospital building dedicated on May 8; Juvenile Amputee Clinic established.
1951 Kessler begins first training programs for visiting foreign physicians; Kessler Auxiliary established; Expansion plans for West Orange campus proposed.
1953 New building housing large gymnasium, physical therapy department and prosthetics shop dedicated; Mme. Pandit, President of the United Nations General Assembly officiates.
1954 Kessler Auxiliary opens The Stepping Stone, a shop in Montclair, NJ, that sold items crafted by persons with disabilities and other merchandise; profits were donated to Kessler Institute to benefit patient care.
1956 Kessler receives a $90,000 grant from the New Jersey State Rehabilitation Commission to establish a pre-vocational diagnostic unit, the first of its kind in the state.
1959 Groundbreaking ceremonies are held for a new 48-bed patient wing on the West Orange campus.
1961 New patient wing is dedicated and a swimming pool is constructed.
1970 Urology Services Department added to Kessler-West Orange.
1972 Rippel Laboratory opens on the West Orange campus.
1973 Groundbreaking is held for a new wing that will expand patient rooms, programs and services.
1974 New wing that includes an additional 28 patient beds; outpatient gyms; speech, vocational and social services areas; hydrotherapy center; and a new dining room and kitchen.
1975 Kessler affiliates with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School (UMDNJ) which establishes the state's first residency training program in physical medical and rehabilitation.
1978 Henry H. Kessler, M.D., dies on January 18.
1982 Kessler purchases the New Jersey Rehabilitation Hospital in East Orange, NJ; the facility becomes known as Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – East Orange campus.
1986 Kessler opens a 36-bed rehabilitation facility in space leased from the Saddle Brook/Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Saddle Brook, NJ.
1985 Henry H. Kessler Foundation is established.
1986 Kessler opens the first free-standing outpatient rehabilitation center in Union, NJ.
1988 Kessler establishes Wilpage Medical, a durable medical equipment company.
1989 Kessler acquires the Welkind Rehabilitation Hospital in Chester, NJ, which becomes known as Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Chester campus.
1990 Kessler Institute, in collaboration with Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research and Education Center (KMRREC) and UMDNJ-University Hospital, receives federal designation as a Model System for spinal cord injury rehabilitation and research.
1990 Kessler adds a three-story wing to its West Orange campus for physician offices, expanded urology and radiology services, and research and education areas.
1991 Kessler acquires Amsterdam Brothers, a medical supply company, expanding Wilpage Medical services.
1993 Kessler acquires the Saddle Brook/Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Saddle Brook, NJ; it becomes Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook campus.
1995 Kessler acquires a nursing facility in Paterson, NJ, which is renamed Kessler Care Center at Great Falls. It is sold in 2000.
1996 Kessler acquires the Essex County Geriatric Center, which becomes Kessler Care Center at Cedar Grove, NJ.  It is sold in 2002.
1998 Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation is restructured as a "for profit" entity.
1998 Kessler Care Center at St. Cloud, a skilled nursing facility, opens in West Orange, NJ. It is sold in 2000.
1999 Kessler acquires Core Rehab Management, Cheshire, CT. This contract services group becomes Kessler Core Rehab.
1999 Kessler acquires Florida-based Rehab Management Systems, which expands outpatient operations under the Kessler Rehabilitation Center name.
1999 Kessler Wilpage Medical acquires Unit Surgical, Newark, NJ.
2000 Kessler Institute, in collaboration with KMRREC, UMDNJ, Hackensack university Medical Center, Morristown Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph's Medical Center, receives federal designation as a Model System for traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and research.
2000 Kessler acquires Total Wellness Rehabilitation and Rehab Associates in Florida. Both become part of the Kessler Rehabilitation Center network.
2000 Kessler acquires Miami Hand Clinic in Florida and the Hand Centers of New Jersey, which become Kessler Rehabilitation Centers.
2000 Kessler Wilpage Medical acquires Millers Homecare, Hawthorne, NJ.
2001 Kessler Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital, a joint venture, opens in Rockville, MD.
2001 Kessler acquires Georgia-based Rehab Associates, Stamper Physical Therapy of Maryland, and Martin County Hand Rehab in Florida, all of which become Kessler Rehabilitation Centers.
2001 Kessler Village at Chatham (NJ), a 95-unit assisted living joint venture between Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation and Juniper's Fund for Health Care Alternatives, opens.
2001 Kessler Wilpage Medical acquires Community Medical Technologies, Runnemede, NJ.
2001 Kessler acquires Massachusetts-based Community Rehab Centers. Multiple lines of business become Kessler Rehabilitation Centers, Kessler Onsite Rehabilitation Services and Kessler ArgosyHealth.
2003 Kessler Rehabilitation Corporation is acquired by Select Medical Corporation.
2005 Groundbreaking ceremonies mark the beginning of construction on a new three-story addition to Kessler's West Orange campus.
2006 New neurorehabilitation pavilion that features two specialized 48-bed units for Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Rehabilitation, as well as a new admissions department, gift shop and lobby is dedicated on West Orange campus is dedicated.
2007 Kessler's East Orange campus is closed; services and staff are transferred to the West Orange and Saddle Brook campuses.
2008 Kessler celebrates its 60th anniversary. View the video below by clicking on the play icon on the image.

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