By Stephen Santulli
Daryl Wilkerson helped make history three decades ago—just not his own.
As a defensive end for the University of Houston, Wilkerson could have stopped Notre Dame from winning the 1979 Cotton Bowl if only he’d sacked Joe Montana before the star quarterback threw the game-winning pass on the last play of the game. By not making the play, Wilkerson figures, he helped put Montana on track toward a legendary NFL career.
It’s a story that Wilkerson, now 53, likes to tell about the path he’s taken since that game, which included one NFL season of his own for the Baltimore Colts and wound all the way to the Upper East Side, where he is now vice president of support services at Mount Sinai Hospital, overseeing all nonclinical operations like food service, housekeeping, engineering and construction—20 departments and 1,200 employees in all.
In a sense, he’s come full circle.
“In one profession, I used to put people in the hospital. Now I try to get them cured and out of the hospital,” Wilkerson said.
Mount Sinai was coming out of the fiscal emergency ward when it hired Wilkerson in 2006, having shored up its finances after years in the red. He said that since then, the hospital has continued its strong turnaround, thanks in large part to “forward-thinking” new leadership.
Coming to Mount Sinai, Wilkerson said he understood that in addition to his responsibility to patients, he had an obligation to support his staff, many of whom stayed with the hospital in its darkest hours, and make them feel as invested in Mount Sinai’s success as its doctors and nurses are. He describes his philosophy as “each one, teach one.”
“What I needed to do was come in and be a true leader for them,” he said.
The support service staff includes many entry-level and minority workers, and Wilkerson also feels a duty to provide a positive role model as a successful African American from humble beginnings. It’s a mission he’s taken beyond the hospital’s walls and into the surrounding community.
Born in Houston, Wilkerson frequently moved with his family during his childhood; his father served in the military. He had little exposure to New York—before taking the job with Mount Sinai, he said, “I’d only been through to get my butt kicked by the New York Giants or [the USFL’s] New Jersey Generals.”
But Wilkerson and his wife, Diane, found a brownstone on the Upper East Side near Central Park, giving him a firsthand look at how Mount Sinai serves the neighborhood. He regularly attends community meetings to make sure the hospital has a face that neighborhood residents can see and sits on the board of the Yorkville Common Pantry.
Wilkerson’s commitment to the neighborhood’s disadvantaged and minority residents also shows in the hospital’s partnership with The Doe Fund, which helps homeless men find jobs, first on street-cleaning crews.
Eighty-five percent of The Doe Fund’s clients are African American and just as many have had previous trouble with the law, according to Patricia Laufer, a director at Doe. The group has placed 15 clients in jobs and internships at Mount Sinai—all working for Wilkerson.
“He recognizes that sometimes people need a door opened to them,” Laufer said.
And though he may not be a native, Laufer says there’s one way that Wilkerson fits in well in the city: He’s “definitely New York-paced,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who works as hard.” n
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