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Joel J. Nobel, MD
A Tribute to ACCE Founding member, Fellow member, dear Colleague and Friend
David A. Simmons, ScD, P.E., FACCE, CCE, CQE
July 25, 1935 – October 28, 2020

David A. Simmons, ScD, P.E., FACCE, CCE, CQE

David A. Simmons, doctor and Army veteran, age 85, of Glen Allen, went to join his Lord in Heaven on October 28, 2020. He was born July 25, 1935, in Flint, Michigan. He is survived by his loving wife, Rebecca S. Simmons; children, John, Laura and William Simmons; grandchildren, Cameron and Ian Simmons; his stepson, Ken Newsome, his wife, Linda Newsome and their children, David Lee, Jennifer, Alex and Sarah; and several adorable great-grandchildren. Dr. Simmons was preceded in death by his parents, Arthur Thomas Simmons and Dorothy Pearl Borton Simmons of Flint, Michigan; and his son, Richard Simmons.
Dr. Simmons spent over 50 years in direct patient health care delivery, clinical engineering and management and health care consultation. David possessed three engineering degrees, including a Doctor of Science in Engineering Management from Indiana Northern University. He spent many years in both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Public Health Service in Indian Health Service Hospitals. In 1973, Dr. Simmons became the first Chief, Biomedical Engineer for Veterans Administration's 168 hospitals. Dr. Simmons was a prolific speaker and writer with dozens of books and publications in many different health care quality subject areas. He founded and served as President-CEO of (1) Technical Dynamics, Inc. (1979) as a CE shared service subsidiary of the Fairfax Hospital Association (now INOVA Health System) where he also served at the same time as the Director of CE for all of the Association's hospitals; and (2) Mid Atlantic CE, Inc. (1986) for Voluntary Hospitals of America.
  • ​1969: elected Fellow of AAAS
  • 1981: elected Fellow of ASHE/AHA
  • 1995: selected as the Department of VA CE of the Year, and One of the top Ten Federal Engineers of the Year.
  • 2012: ACCE Lifetime Achievement Award​
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Mount Vernon Baptist Church of Glen Allen
To plant trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
ACCE Fellows at 2012 Members meeting in Charlotte, NC

ACCE Fellows at 2012 Members meeting in Charlotte, NC​​
 L-R: back: Ray Zambuto, Binseng Wang, David Simmons, Paul Sherman, George Johnston, Tobey Clark
L-R, front: Bryanne Patail, Ted Cohen, Tom Judd, Frank Painter, Steve Grimes


Our Colleagues Offer These Thoughts

An eye doctor in Boston put Dave and me together in 1970 after I made a presentation at a 1969 meeting in Boston on medical equipment.  I had called him as a result of the physician telling me about him.  Dave was doing quality control work at that time.  He told me that he was writing a book “Medical and Hospital Control Systems” and I agreed to write a couple of chapters.  When we physically met Dave told be three things that he wants to do 1) write this book, 2) earn a Doctorate, 3) move south.

In 1972, when the committee that I was on developed the plan for a medical equipment maintenance program for the VA, I was offered to move to Washington, DC and start the program.  I wanted to stay in Arkansas and do the training.  I was asked if I knew anyone who could head the program and I gave them Dave Simmons name and he was offered the job the next day.  He and I worked to build the program from that time.

In 1976, Dave had been offered to establish a clinical engineering program for the Indian Health Services and he was considering it.  As he and I were in St. Louis and driving to the airport, he told me that he needed a sign from God about what he should do.  All of sudden we passed a billboard that had a white dove on it, and he explained that was the sign from God and he took the Indian Health Services job.

Dave and I continued as best friends and to work together for the next 30 years and I learned a lot from him.

I have to laugh to myself for the trust Joel placed in each of us as such young ages. In only a few years, many of us found ourselves presenting keynote speeches on his behalf at national and international scientific and medical sessions, and most of us had little more than a Bachelor's Degree and Dr. Nobel's say-so to back us up. As he sagely told me while calming my jitters before one of my first national debuts, "Just stick to what you know, Elliot, and don't let anyone draw you onto their turf. You know more about that product than anyone else in the nation, so stick to your guns."

I have to admit that Dr. Nobel was never easy to keep up with. He seemed to sleep but a couple of hours a night, and regardless of your medical, engineering, scientific, or legal specialty his habit of endless reading and his sharp, critical mind ensured that everyone needed to bring his or her "A-game" when you talked to him. Holidays and vacations seemed of little interest to him unless tied to a working mission or project, and the concept of retirement seemed unfathomable. Dr. Nobel never, ever sat still, and tracking him down around the globe was a challenge until the end! Not sure most of us would trade our own lives for his, but that was a choice that afforded him the constant cultural and scientific renewal and impact that made him tick.

I still hearken too many of the rules and explanations in that Employee Handbook, even though I've not been an employee at ECRI Institute for 25 years. Pearls like "a non-profit organization is not like most other corporations" as he tried to make it clear to everyone that ECRI's public mission and integrity took precedent over profit or rewards. Firm guidelines about spending funds as frugally as if they were your own personal money regardless of the situation, and incredibly restrictive conflict-of-interest and disclosure rules for each and every employee are today embedded in IRS and FDA guidelines and their peers around the world. I, and the non-profit organizations that I lead strive to live up to those requirements each and every day!

When I talked to Dr. Nobel as recently as last year, he had lost none of his missionary bravado, focus, or acuity, and his global treks were only limited by the wear and tear of travel. No country was too small, and no slice of society was unworthy of his time and attention. Unfortunately, though blessed with a brilliant mind and visionary perspective, his solid, stocky body turned out to be less robust than his intellect. Though I probably had close to a foot of height advantage over him, he was never less than a giant in my mind. I am sure that I won't be the only one to remember him that way, either!

You will certainly read of Dr. Nobel's accomplishments in the future, but I can tell you first hand that most of the accounts will be humble re-telling of a legacy that did -- and will continue to -- improve healthcare around the planet in remarkable and important ways. In the early days, half or more of the medical devices his engineers tested were at best mediocre, and many were a threat to life and/or limb. Today, though, most such testing reveals good-to-excellent products in the US market that are differentiated on features, price, and preference. That is quite an achievement, and it was won one year at a time relying on Dr. Nobel's commitment to "The Discipline of Science." and "The Integrity of Independence." That is the current marketing byline that the ECRI Institute that Joel founded, and it speaks volumes about the organizations ongoing mission.

Personally, few will know of Joel's wry humor and bent towards practical jokes, and few will know just how far he would go to help a younger engineer or physician develop a successful career. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his training, discipline, and visionary leadership, and can honestly help say that Dr. Nobel helped shape my career and life.

There are probably several other hundreds of my peers around the world -- younger and older -- who will have similar recollections and feelings, and I hope they all eventually say their piece. To me, early in my career Joel was like a second father, and leaving him and ECRI to expand my own career was not an easy decision for me to make in 1990, but he knew, too, that it was time for me to move on, and his friendship and support for me and many others proved to be unending. Farewell my dear friend. We will all miss you, but many of us will continue to do our best to honor you courage, vision, and insight. Honor and respect are due. Rest in peace, good Samurai, and soar joyously into the winds and in our memories for eternity.

James Wear

There was never a dull moment when Dave Simmons was in the room.  Dave had a keen mind, always seeking innovative ways of solving problems and challenging the conventional point of view.  In addition to his considerable body of work with the VA, he was also one of the early adopters in the shared services movement and the use of maintenance insurance options for managing medical equipment repair costs.  Remembering Dave makes me smile.  

Raymond Zambuto

As a young graduate student in my last semester, my very first job interview was with Dr. Dave Simmons. I knew I wanted to work in clinical engineering and the VA had a great reputation, partially due to Dave’s good work.  I drove to New York City and interviewed with Dave at the Manhattan VA.  I remember his office and department, many of the questions he asked and in particular his admirable manner of conducting the interview.  I did not end up working there, but very much enjoyed the experience.  In the following years, before Dave’s retirement, our paths crossed many times.  Each time increased my appreciation of Dave’s professionalism, commitment to clinical engineering and his interest in developing others in the profession.  Dave set a good an example and will be missed.

Frank Painter

Dave was a wonderful man.  He was instrumental in launching Biomedical Engineering in the VA.  A true pioneer.

     Kurt Finke

When I started to work for MEDIQ/PRN in the early 1990’s, it was difficult to find colleagues with experience in managing clinical engineering (CE) in multiple hospitals across the country.  Most CE departments were confined to a single hospital or a system with a few hospitals in a limited geographical area.  Challenged with setting up a quality and regulatory support for a nationwide equipment rental company and later, CE outsourcing services, I was delighted to find a CE pioneer in Dr. David Simmons who was willing to share generously his expertise and hard-learned lessons from the Veterans Administration.  We talked often over the telephone and met at national events, always gaining great advice and wisdom from him.  I will miss him as a colleague and great friend.

    Binseng Wang

It is with great sadness that I learned of Dr. Dave Simmons passing.

I have met Dave early in my career and was amazed by his visionary and creativity. I remember subscribing to his and Jim Wear clinical engineering newsletter service waiting to check my knowledge with the questions they posted at the last page on the newsletter. It influenced my ability to see and pursue professional CE career more clearly. He will be missed but not forgotten.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

   Yadin David

I have met a lot of CEs; Dave was the first great CE I met.

Funny story, the year was 1980. I was departing my first CE job in Baltimore and looking for the next. I was to interview with Dr. Simmons at his Northern Virginia office. He was running a bit late and his assistant let me wait in his office. So, there I was with my feet up on his desk speaking to someone about a job in Texas. Dave walks in and was somewhat put out with this brash young CE (hey by then I was a 30-year-old former Naval officer).

Despite that inauspicious start, we became fast friends for these next 40 years. In addition to their leadership at Veterans Health and much more, David and Jim Wear produced a steady stream of important CE training materials that all young CEs needed to digest.

But beyond Dave Simmons' incredible CE leadership, prodigious writing, and early advocacy for medical device quality, I observed other traits that made him great.

I saw his love for family (including yours and mine), our profession, and serving vulnerable populations.  Thank you, David, for modeling this true excellence.

Tom Judd

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