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Centre for Neuro Skills wants its brain injury treatment to be the standard of care. David Harrington is helping lead it.


David Harrington

David Harrington, who earned an MBA from CSUB in 2005, was recently promoted to president and chief operating officer of the Centre for Neuro Skills.

Alumni Engagement Specialist

David Harrington is in the business of giving people their independence back.

Every year, some 650 people across the country come to the Centre for Neuro Skills after strokes, car accidents, falls and other causes of traumatic brain injury for rehabilitation.

CNS not only treats its current-day patients’ physical and emotional wounds but pours money into research to aid its patients of the future.

Now is a particularly exciting time for the Centre, which after staking ground throughout California and Texas plans to double in size over the next five to seven years. And it’s particularly exciting for Harrington, who is helping oversee it all following his promotion to president and chief operating officer last fall.

“I can’t imagine any other work being more meaningful than helping those who are suffering, or those who have a disability,” Harrington said.


Centre for Neuro Skills Bakersfield clinic

CNS was founded and is headquartered in Bakersfield. Its state-of-the-art facilities are now housed in a new complex on Ashe Road in the southwest.

CNS is already a big operation with “hub” sites in Bakersfield and Dallas and “spoke” operations in Emeryville, Encino, Fort Worth and Houston. It employs about 900 people and offers a wide range of in- and out-patient services.

CEO Mark Ashley founded CNS in Bakersfield in 1980, eight years after a brain injury suffered during the Vietnam War left his 21-year-old brother, Steve, unable to move, speak or breathe on his own. Through daily intensive therapy as one of CNS’ first patients, Steve learned to speak, drive an electric wheelchair, feed himself and, ultimately, live alone in his own home.

Harrington, a 45-year-old North (Bakersfield) High School grad who earned his MBA from CSUB in 2005, is being groomed to lead CNS when Ashley retires. He’s a natural choice, having worked at CNS for much of his adult life, on both the clinical and business sides, starting in his early 20s when a friend told him about a “cool job” at the company.

Harrington, who at the time wanted to become an architect, worked as a rehabilitation assistant helping patients living in CNS facilities cook, clean, go grocery shopping and do other day-to-day activities after treatment in the clinics.

“There was something about it that I just fell in love with,” Harrington said of the work. “I just found it to be much more meaningful to help people than to draw houses, not to diminish that profession.”

Harrington went on to San Jose State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy in 1999, and then specialized in hand therapy at Marie Glynn Occupational Therapy in Bakersfield for about five years. He was fascinated by the fabrication of splints and the post-surgical treatment and rehabilitation of hands.

He’d later, in 2006, be certified as a brain injury specialist and trainer, making him especially qualified to treat patients holistically, not only physically but cognitively, psychosocially and functionally as a result of brain trauma.

“I liked the mechanical part of hand therapy, but I really liked to see the patients recover neurologically, recover from the catastrophic injury that’s affected not only them but their entire family unit,” Harrington said.

David Harrington helps patient with gait and balance

Harrington helps Rosemary Waite work on her balance, coordination and endurance skills at the Centre for Neuro Skills in this undated photo from his clinical days. Photo courtesy The Bakersfield Californian.

CNS, which strives to develop and retain homegrown talent, kept an eye on Harrington and lured him back, this time as a case manager, said Chris Persel, regional director of clinical services (and a double CSUB alumnus himself).

“He had really good attention to what the patients’ needs were and meeting those needs,” Persel said. “He’s easy to get along with, he’s a great team member, and we take a lot of pride in working together.”

Case managers oversee all aspects of a patient’s care including their treatment, insurance concerns and living situation. He was one of the best case managers CNS has ever had because of his schooling and wide-ranging work experience, said Ellen Katomski, vice president of clinical services.

Plus, she said, he’s just a nice, hard-working, team-playing guy.

“When patients needed something out of the ordinary,  he would go above and beyond,” she said. “It didn’t matter what they asked of him. And if he couldn’t do it, he would figure out how to get it done.”

Harrington became interested in the business side of the company and earned his MBA at CSUB, where he’d also go on to teach as an adjunct lecturer. There Harrington met one of three men he considers his professional mentors, Associate Professor John Stark, who taught him the “human relations part of business.”

“If you’re going to run a successful business, you have to put people first. People before finances,” Harrington said he learned from Stark. “If you put people first over finances, the finances will come.”

MBA in hand, Harrington created a new role at CNS: quality manager. His job was to ensure consistent care across all CNS facilities as it grew. In 2014 he became director of operations, overseeing not only quality but HR, IT, facilities management and data analytics.


One of Harrington’s main focuses has been collecting data to improve both the company’s bottom line and patient care.

Aquatic therapy at Centre for Neuro Skills

Aquatic therapy helps with gait, balance, flexibility and strength, according to the Centre for Neuro Skills, where this photo was taken.

CNS, for example, created its own electronic health record system so that its 40 years of patient outcome data could be used to develop new treatment plans. It also measured the return on investment in its services as a selling point to patients and insurance companies.

Life planners took a look at some 100 CNS case files and found that on average its interventions save $2 million per case in terms of the dollars needed to support a patient. In some cases the return was $7 million, Harrington said.

“The more intensive and comprehensive the therapy they get in rehabilitation, the less likely they are to be rehospitalized, the more likely they are to get a job. They’re less likely to enter a life of crime because of medication abuse, they’re more likely to not have domestic violence,” Harrington said. “It really has an effect on society.”

CNS researchers are also studying how people’s DNA affects their ability to recover from trauma and building sleep labs to assess how improving sleep can improve recovery. “We want to be able to treat the patient even when they’re sleeping,” Harrington said.

Outside of CNS, Harrington is a member of the Kern County Concussion Consortium, a partnership of CNS, other health providers and local schools that aims to better recognize and manage concussions among children and teens. When the consortium first formed about five years ago, it was training about 70 coaches. Today it’s training some 700.


David Harrington chats with staffer.

Harrington talks with a staffer in the Centre for Neuro Skills’ Dallas facility.

Harrington says his work ethic comes from his parents. His late mother was executive director of the Society for Disabled Children in Bakersfield for 20 years; his semi-retired father works in the oilfield services industry. He has one older and one younger sister, too.

Harrington’s immediate family now is his wife, Sara, and their two children, Luke, 13, and Ella, 10.  Sara, too, is a Bakersfield native. Asked what they like to do as a family, Harrington said just be together.

“We’re a low-key family,” he said. “I think I work hard during the week and my way of decompressing is just being with them, everything from swimming in the pool to jumping on the trampoline to playing a little Xbox.”

As Ashley began thinking through his phase-out as Centre CEO over the next several years, he wanted to identify someone who could take over. Harrington, with his clinical experience, business talent and emotional intelligence with patients and staff became his pick.

“The name (David) means beloved, and David certainly embodies that,” Ashley said. “You can’t meet David and not like him. You can’t be with David and not enjoy the time. He is gregarious, he is humorous, he is bright, he is witty, he is personable, he is capable, he is competent. He has tremendous integrity.”

Mark Ashley, CEO of Centre for Neuro Skills

Mark Ashley, founder and CEO of the Centre for Neuro Skills.

CNS started out with 10 staff members and 1,000 square feet of space on Brundage Lane and is now a middle-market sized company, Ashley said. His vision is not only to double CNS’ current size but make its methods for rehabilitating people with acquired brain injury the standard of care across the country.

“Our mission can only be accomplished by having the right people in place, that share that vision,” Ashley said. “And of course David is there.”



Open Quote
You can’t meet David and not like him. You can’t be with David and not enjoy the time. He is gregarious, he is humorous, he is bright, he is witty, he is personable, he is capable, he is competent. He has tremendous integrity. Close Quote
Mark Ashley, CEO
Centre for Neuro Skills