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Two employees to be honored for a half-century of service to Upstate

Two of the more than 1,200 Upstate Medical University employees to be honored at Employee Recognition Day June 6 have provided a half-century of service to the university.

Donald C. Blair, MD, professor of medicine, who specializes in infectious diseases, and Francine Fischer, project associate in the department of pharmacology, will celebrate their golden anniversaries at Upstate during its 40th annual Employee Recognition Day June 6 at the OnCenter.

All employees reaching a five-year milestone will be honored.

Upstate has been celebrating employee service anniversaries for more than three decades. “Employee Recognition Day is an important date on the Upstate calendar,” said President Mantosh Dewan, MD. “It is a celebration of our employees for their outstanding work and to show our appreciation for their dedication and service to the Upstate mission of patient care, research, teaching and community service."

Six employees are being honored for 45 years of service: Daniel Hmiel, Physical Plant; Candia Keehfus, Infection Prevention; Edward Major, Psychiatry; Karyn Plante, Upstate Triage Center; Darlene Schick-Waller, Upstate Cancer Center; and Bonnie Toms, Pediatrics.

For a complete listing of honorees, go here:

Blair started at Upstate in 1974 after completing his internal medicine residency and a combined infectious disease and clinical pharmacology fellowship at the University of Michigan University Hospital. He also earned his master’s degree in pharmacology.

“I came to Upstate planning on staying a couple of years.” Blair said.  “It seems like yesterday."

Turns out, Blair loved everything about Upstate. He liked the size of the campus, his colleagues, the neighborhood he settled in, and the city. He said Upstate’s small size made him feel like he was contributing directly to the students’ and residents’ education, which he found rewarding.

In his time here, Blair has been at the forefront of treatment for two major new infectious diseases; AIDS and Covid-19. He said Upstate diagnosed its first AIDS patient in 1981. A few years later it established the Designated AIDS Center; Blair was medical director of the DAC for 19 years.  

“AIDS was certainly a major clinical and therapy-research challenge,” he said.

A member of the Department of Medicine, Blair served as chief of the Infectious Disease Division (21 years), director of the Medicine Residency program ( seven years), acting chief of the General Medicine Division (eight years).  Concurrently, he also directed the TB and STD control programs for Onondaga County (20 years).

Currently he works part-time reviewing laboratory data being reported to the Infectious Disease Associates clinic, participates in weekly ID conferences and is a member of the Institutional Review Board.

When Covid-19 arrived, he was part of the research team that worked toward a vaccine under Stephen Thomas, MD, director the Upstate Global Health Institute and the Frank E. Young, MD '56, and Leanne Young Endowed Chair of Microbiology & Immunology.

“It was a momentous time,” he said. “It was very important work.”

In addition to those two big diseases, Blair said upwards of 35 new infections have appeared since he entered the field—something he never expected when he arrived to begin his career.

“When I finished my infectious disease training, I thought that most infectious diseases had been recognized and that it was just a matter of perfecting their diagnosis and treatment,” he said. “As it turned out, nothing could have been more wrong.”

Fischer has been a jack-of-all-trades during her time at Upstate. She earned an associate degree at SUNY Morrisville as a medical laboratory technician then got a bachelor’s degree in biological research from Empire State College.

Currently a project staff associate in the Department of Pharmacology, Fischer works with medical and graduate students coordinating class schedules and providing instructional support. She has done this job for 35 years but has also had a myriad of other jobs. She also tracks department equipment inventory, sets up and cleans out labs, handles service contracts, coordinates room moves, and maintains department equipment and space.

"I seem to be very necessary around here," she said

After working at Community General Hospital as a morgue attendant/lab technician and for a local diary company measuring butterfat and bacteria, Fischer came to Upstate Pharmacology as a technician in a kidney research lab.  After 13 years, she joined a cardiac research lab where she worked for a few years before becoming the department's academic coordinator and equipment/space coordinator.

Through the years she has enjoyed the variety of work and the people she has worked with.  

“Fifty years is a long time to be at the same place,” Fischer said. “But you’re not doing the same thing twice. It’s always different and that’s what’s been so great about it. I have never gotten bored. The research was just so interesting.”

Caption: Donald Blair and Francine Fischer are being honored for 50 years of service to Upstate Medical University.