An interview with Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rita Hamilton
Rita Hamilton, D.O., FAAPMR, was appointed chief medical officer of Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) in August 2019. She previously served as BSWIR’s director of spinal cord injury rehabilitation and provided expert leadership in program development, research and academic training. Despite her extensive experience, Dr. Hamilton was soon faced with the challenge of guiding our hospital network, patients and staff through an unprecedented global pandemic.
Dr. Hamilton (RH) recently sat down for a Q&A with Perspectives’ editor (PE) to share her thoughts.
What were your goals – your vision – when you accepted the position of CMO?
They were three-fold. First, to continue delivering the highest level of safe, quality care to our patients. That meant expanding programs, enhancing outcomes and breaking down barriers, which brings me to number two. BSWIR offers a comprehensive scope of post-acute services, with a tremendous opportunity to facilitate the transition from inpatient to outpatient, as well as Day Neuro, Neuro Transitional, Home Health and other specialized programs. We need to focus on the continuum of care, not segments of care, and even greater teamwork.
Finally, it is incumbent upon us to continue training the next generations of medical and clinical practitioners. My vision for BSWIR is to be THE leading rehabilitation provider in our region and certainly one of the best in the nation.
Six months into your tenure and suddenly you’re faced with a pandemic. How did you respond?
I’ll admit it was challenging. No one was prepared for COVID-19 and its impact. Guidelines and protocols were changing almost daily. New infection control processes, screening, PPE, masking, visitor restrictions... it was all very stressful. The sense of loss felt overwhelming at times. But our staff was amazing. They never gave up or gave in ... they just kept on doing what they do best: caring for our patients.
Another positive was a renewed sense of teamwork. People really pulled together. Our medical directors – Drs. Farh Khan, Asher Light, David Lo and Jason Miller — helped lead the way, working closely with each other and their teams to coordinate care delivery. We’re definitely stronger because of this.
Did COVID push you to explore new avenues of care delivery?
Because of the restrictions imposed by COVID and the reluctance or inability of patients to avail themselves of medical and rehabilitation care, we knew we needed to change our way of thinking and take advantage of technology. We became adept at Zoom calls, helped patients and families connect via Facetime and established virtual support groups. Most of all, I’m proud of how we were able to adapt so quickly and offer tele-health services to our patients across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama. That was a game-changer.
You’ve served as BSWIR’s residency program director since 2008 and on the faculty at Texas A&M Medical School since 2012, receiving several prestigious teaching awards. How did COVID impact medical education?
There was a huge shift from in-person to online learning platforms and critical hands-on training was limited. Despite gaining experience in tele-health, our nine residents and one brain injury fellow missed the opportunity to examine patients in the outpatient setting, perform certain procedures and master patient-physician relationships. In addition, some courses had to be divided into small sections to maintain social distancing and many research projects were put on hold. This certainly impacted their overall learning experience, but they did gain important insight on dealing with a pandemic that will help to prepare them for other health care crises.
That said, we were able to bring in subject matter experts from all across the country via online platforms, which helped enhance the curriculum. The missing element – and it’s a big one – was the personal connection that we typically enjoy, getting to know one another over lunches and gatherings. Hopefully, things will return to normal soon.
As the pandemic becomes history, what do you see as the future of medical rehabilitation
First, let me say how gratifying it’s been to see how everyone – regardless of their role or responsibilities, came together and allowed us to provide the best possible rehabilitation experience under the most difficult of circumstances. I’m proud of the teamwork, commitment and willingness to embrace change we witnessed. All of this bodes well for the future. We will build on the lessons we’ve learned and continue to explore new avenues of treatment, leverage technology and adapt to every challenge. Together, we’ll ‘get back to better.’
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