Even before he became a successful businessman, Rocco Ortenzio said, he knew he wanted to give back to his community in a big way.
“I hope to give those who may never get a chance the possibility of one,” he said.
Giving back through philanthropy and volunteering are pillars of his commitments, because he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help he was given, Ortenzio said.
In 1969, Ortenzio began Rehab Corp., his first start-up company. More than 40 years later, he has founded three other successful companies focused in health care. His most recent company is Select Medical Corp., founded in 1996. The Lower Allen Township-based company today has almost 28,000 employees and operates hospitals and clinics in 41 states, according to a company statement.
Ortenzio is considered a pioneer in the rehabilitation industry and is well-known for his business strategy, said Roy Zimmerman, senior counsel for Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott law firm in Harrisburg, and friend of Ortenzio since their high school days.
Just as important as Ortenzio’s business endeavors is his commitment to the community, said Nancy Rockey, vice president of college and community development at Harrisburg Area Community College, one of the organizations Ortenzio supports.
“He sees what’s needed in our community, and he and his family and organizations come forward to make that happen,” she said.
Ortenzio and his wife began The Rocco and Nancy Ortenzio Foundation, which provides funding for a variety of educational and health care organizations in the Harrisburg area. He has made gifts of several million dollars to local institutes, including:
- The Ortenzio Heart Center at Holy Spirit Hospital.
- Harrisburg University of Science and Technology‘s Ortenzio Learning Center.
- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center‘s children’s hospital, currently under construction.
- Bishop McDevitt High School‘s new-building campaign.
“His own personal generosity has translated into a number of important programs and several institutions,” said Dr. Harold Paz, CEO of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which recently partnered with Select Medical for the medical center’s rehabilitation hospital.
Ortenzio’s giving springs from personal experiences.
He was the youngest of six children, born into an immigrant family. He never expected to go to college, Ortenzio said. The path he would most likely have taken included attending Steelton High School and choosing to take manual labor courses like his brothers, he said.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but a parish priest came to see my mother and father and said I should go to what was then Harrisburg Catholic High School, now Bishop McDevitt High School,” Ortenzio said.
At Harrisburg Catholic, Ortenzio could only enroll in one curriculum: academic.
When he was a senior, a friend who had graduated came back to visit and
Ortenzio asked him what he was doing. He was a physical therapy major in college, his friend said.
“I remember I said, ‘What’s that?’ — I always liked science, and it sounded interesting,” Ortenzio said.
When he asked his friend how he afforded college, the friend said he went through a foundation and was granted money that covered the entire tuition, Ortenzio said.
Ortenzio applied through the same foundation and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship. From there, he opened a private practice and began formulating a business idea for his first company, he said.
Education made all the difference in his life’s direction, he said.
He’s also had life-changing experiences in the health care world, Ortenzio said.
In the mid-1980s, he had open-heart surgery at the age of 48. Almost 20 years later, Ortenzio had the same surgery performed again. Those experiences led to supporting several community health care businesses, he said.
He chooses the recipients of his gifts through discussion with his foundation’s committee, comprised of his wife, three sons and their wives, he said.
“Rocky is a very concerned philanthropist,” Zimmerman said. “He looks at the causes he supports carefully … examines everything about a cause and then decides whether or not he’s going to support it.”
Ortenzio’s philanthropy has inspired those around him to follow his lead, said Sister Romaine Niemeyer, president and CEO of Holy Spirit Health System.
“A lot of times you really have to have the finances to begin a project,” she said. “Once people see (Ortenzio) giving … people will join in.”
Ortenzio’s family has learned the importance of giving: Each of his sons started their own philanthropic foundation.
Select Medical employees also created a foundation: Caring and Responsive Employees of Select. They supported the Select Medical Imax Theater at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, and the Select Medical Health Education Pavilion on HACC’s Harrisburg campus, among other endeavors.
A lifetime of leadership and giving has been instilled in Ortenzio’s family and corporations, said Dennis P. Brenckle, retired regional president of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank and long-time business peer of Ortenzio.
“If there’s a way to help, and you are fortunate enough to be able to do it now, why wait?” Ortenzio said.
Position: Executive chairman of Select Medical Corp., chairman of Select Asset Management & Trust Co.
Impact: Ortenzio has built four successful companies, all based in Cumberland County. He’s used his success to donate millions of dollars to local health care and educational organizations, changing the face of the Harrisburg regional community.