Heather Taylor, MS, MEd, PhD, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and director of the Texas Model Spinal Cord Injury System and the Spinal Cord Injury and Disability Research (SCIDR) program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is the recipient of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s (ACRM) SCI-ISIG Margaret Nosek Award. Given annually as part of the Margaret (“Peg”) Nosek Lecture Series presented by the SCI Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group, the award recognizes an individual who demonstrates drive and commitment to advancing scientific knowledge, developing standards of clinical practice, raising awareness and advocating for appropriate health care and community support for women with disabilities.
“I am so honored to receive this award. I first worked with Peg Nosek when I joined the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine just after graduate school in 2001,” said Dr. Taylor, who also holds an adjunct faculty appointment at Baylor. “Over the years, she mentored me as a colleague and as a woman with my own disability of multiple sclerosis. When I joined TIRR Memorial Hermann in 2012, she worked with me again on the Texas Spinal Cord Injury Model System. Despite her own disabling health condition, she was full of a contagious energy that lit a fire under all those who worked with her. She was among the first to encourage clinicians and researchers to understand how the needs of women with disabilities differ from those of men. Men comprise 80% of the spinal cord injury population and, therefore, have received the most attention. Thanks to Peg’s inspiration and work on the inclusion of women, more and more clinical trials are required to include women in order to identify their unique needs.”
Dr. Taylor is the former chair of both the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems and the American Congress for Rehabilitation Medicine Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group Women’s Health Task Force, both of which are focused on the unique concerns of women’s health after spinal cord injury. Dr. Taylor has focused her research on health, motor recovery and learning, and psychosocial functioning, with a strong emphasis on women and children with spinal cord injury. She has a long history of research with a mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities and has been principal investigator, or co-investigator, of more than 35 funded projects.
Dr. Nosek was a disability rights advocate and internationally recognized authority on the health of women with disabilities. She was a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, director of Baylor’s Independent Living Research Use Program and director of Baylor’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, which she founded in 1993. In 2014, she also joined the staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann to advocate for women’s programs and participated in research activities. She was president of Health Care for All Texas, and in her later years she became interested in the possibilities of outreach to people with physical disabilities through Second Life, an online multimedia platform that allows people to interact with other users.
Angelle Sander, PhD, professor and director of the Division of Clinical Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology in the Baylor College of Medicine’s H. Ben Taub Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, assumed the position of chair of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s (ACRM) Brain Injury Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group (BI-ISIG) in November 2022. She has served as director of the Brain Injury Research Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann since 2007.
Dr. Sander has been active in ACRM and the BI-ISIG since 1999. She was a member of the Cognitive Rehabilitation Task Force from 2004 through 2015 and participated in translating Cicerone and colleagues’ systematic reviews on cognitive rehabilitation for consumers. She is a past member of the ACRM Clinical Practice Committee, Communications Committee and Consumer Relations Committee, where she served as chair from 2010 through 2012.
“Many of the most successful and rewarding collaborations I have had during my career began informally in small BI-ISIG groups of clinicians who were passionate about doing research that would improve clinical care and make a difference in the lives of persons with traumatic brain injury and their caregivers,” says Dr. Sander, who will serve as chair through November 2024.
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has awarded TIRR Memorial Hermann its silver-level Beacon Award for clinical excellence among its nursing staff. The award specifically honors the team in Patient Care Unit 2C at TIRR Memorial Hermann, where staff members care for patients from around the world with brain, spinal cord and other severe injuries.
The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes caregivers in units whose consistent, systematic approach to evidence-based care optimizes patient outcomes. Units that receive this national recognition serve as role models to others working toward excellence in patient and family care, according to the AACN. The Beacon Award also highlights positive, supportive work environments in which there is greater collaboration between colleagues and leaders, higher morale and lower turnover.
“Patient Care Unit 2C is the first unit at TIRR ever to achieve this award,” says Nicole Harrison, MBA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, vice president and chief nursing officer at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital-Katy and the Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network. “This is a significant acknowledgment from the Association of Critical-Care Nurses of our team and underscores their ongoing commitment to provide safe, patient-centered and evidence-based care to help ensure that patients and families meet their rehabilitation goals.”
The revitalized 29-acre James Driver Inclusive Park, initiated by Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and located in an underserved area in northeast Houston, provides a space for people of all ages and abilities to exercise, socialize and play. The expansion is the first of its kind in the area serving the East Aldine community and was made possible, in part, through the support of TIRR Memorial Hermann.
“Part of our advocacy mission at TIRR Memorial Hermann is to ensure that people with disabilities are included in everyday activities in our community,” says Peggy Turner, CTRS, athletics community liaison and adapted sports and recreation coordinator at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Our goal is to encourage and help people with disabilities take advantage of the benefits of the same health promotion and prevention activities as people who do not have a disability.”
Turner represented TIRR Memorial Hermann at planning meetings for the park revitalization and provided advice from a community perspective, beginning in 2018 and ending with the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in December 2021.
TIRR Memorial Hermann is also a sponsor of the Ed Thompson Inclusive Park playground in Brazoria County, which is currently under construction and expected to open by summer 2023.
The Craig Nielsen Foundation has funded a new program at TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) called TIRR Empowered Advocates Mentoring (TEAM). The foundation awarded the initiative a $55,000 grant in September 2022 for a program that began the following February.
TEAM is designed to encourage young people with disabilities to become tomorrow’s leaders, especially those with spinal cord injuries. Mentees will develop self-advocacy skills on their legal rights as a person with a disability, through education, group reflective dialogues, community engagement activities and forming relationships with other young people with disabilities.
“Our goal is to educate young people on their employment and health care access legal rights as a person with a disability,” says Alexia Smalling, who wrote the grant proposal with Megan Gillespie, both of whom are TIRR Memorial Hermann ILRU research assistants. “Living with a disability can lead to isolation. Many people with disabilities lack a support system, knowledge of the law and their rights, and a sense of community with other people with disabilities. This program will provide the tools for people to make informed decisions as advocates for themselves in all aspects of their lives.”
Smalling and Gillespie hope the two-year pilot initiative will develop into a long-term, far-reaching program. “We acknowledge that building an effective mentorship program is a continuous process, and we hope to continually improve the program and help it grow,” Gillespie says. “The program will be informed by existing mentorship programs aimed at a diversity of disabilities. One of our goals is to develop a handbook on creating a self-advocacy mentorship program for young people with disabilities. We’re hoping that our mentorship program manual will be a helpful blueprint for disability rights organizations across the United States to hold their own mentorship programs.”
TEAM began as an idea suggested by Lex Frieden, professor with UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Informatics and co-director of TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU), which provides research, education and consultation in the areas of independent living, home and community-based services and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Craig Nielsen Foundation awards funding that provides opportunities and independence for individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Sandra Breitengross Bitter has been named director of training for the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) IL-NET National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Independent Living. She joins TIRR Memorial Hermann from the Texas Statewide Independent Living Council, where she was executive director. In that role, she worked closely with centers for independent living across the state and with members of the governor-appointed state council. She also brings experience from her public policy work for the United States House of Representatives.
Bitter, who is based in Austin, leads all training activities, supervises ILRU’s training and team dissemination and manages the work of key IL-NET partners, as well as consultant trainers and authors. She ensures that all principles of the independent living philosophy are present in training conducted through the IL-NET, as well as promoting an organizational culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.
In addition to Bitter, the IL-NET management team includes Richard Petty, director of the IL-NET National Training and Technical Assistance Center; Paula McElwee, director of technical assistance; and Lex Frieden, ILRU director and IL-NET national policy consultant.
TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital ranked No. 2 among the country’s top rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospital rankings for 2022-2023. TIRR Memorial Hermann was previously ranked No. 2 in the 2021-2022 rankings and has been included in the prestigious rankings since the report’s inception in 1989.
“Last year we saw some changes to the ranking process to include more aspects of quality measures in addition to reputation, so TIRR Memorial Hermann’s consistency in this current year supports that our staff and affiliated physicians have been able to continue giving the high-quality care that TIRR Memorial Hermann is known for,” said Rhonda Abbott, PT, FTPTA, MBA, FACHE senior vice president and CEO of TIRR Memorial Hermann. “We plan to carry on with our focus on patient outcomes and the quality of care that we strive for with all of our patients in their rehabilitation journey.”
The annual U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings and ratings, now in their 33rd year, are designed to assist patients and their doctors in making informed decisions about where to receive care for challenging health conditions or for common elective procedures. The U.S. News Best Hospitals methodologies in most areas of care are based largely on objective measures such as risk-adjusted survival and discharge-to-home rates, volume and quality of nursing, among other care-related indicators.
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, a national nonprofit dedicated to putting compassion at the heart of healthcare, has selected six health organizations across the U.S. to participate in the Center’s inaugural Healing Healthcare Initiative (HHI). The initiative aims to provide solutions that support and empower leaders with the resources and tools to better support their health workers’ well-being so they can focus on delivering equitable, compassionate patient care.
The initiative will equip health care leaders from six organizations in developing and implementing a roadmap for their organization to ensure their organization, workforce and patients can continue to thrive. The organizations include Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Denver Health Medical Center, New York City Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, TIRR Memorial Hermann and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center. Specifically, HHI leaders will be equipped with evidenced-based resources, tools and support centered around six key principles: Diversity and Equity, Inclusion, Voice and Choice, Mental Health and Well-being, Psychological and Physical Safety, Team Cohesiveness and Collaboration, Trust and Trustworthiness.
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare is a national organization whose mission is to put compassion at the heart of health care. Through programs, education and advocacy, the Schwartz Center supports the mental health and well-being of the health care workforce so it can provide compassionate care to patients and families.
Michael V. Nguyen, MD, MPH, and Vinay P. Vanodia, MD, faculty members of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, have joined the medical staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Dr. Nguyen is an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School and joined TIRR Memorial Hermann as an attending physician in the Brain Injury Program in September 2022. He received his medical degree from the University of Washington in Seattle and his Master of Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles. He completed residency training in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He joins TIRR Memorial Hermann from the Northwest University Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, where he completed fellowship training in brain injury medicine.
He is a member of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, Association of Academic Physiatrists and American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Dr. Vanodia is an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School and specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, limb loss, limb preservation/salvage, pre- and post-operative amputee rehabilitation management, prosthetic design and prescription criteria, osseointegration and gait and mobility impairments, as well as bracing and orthotic needs. He accepted the position of director of the Amputee and Limb Loss Rehabilitation Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann in October 2022.
Dr. Vanodia received his medical degree from the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine in Cupecoy, St. Maarten, and completed residency training in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Montefiore Medical Center / Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he was chief resident. He went on to complete fellowship training in amputee orthopedic trauma rehabilitation in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
In 2019, Dr. Vanodia was named to Marquis Who’s Who for his dedication to the field of prosthetic medicine. In 2020, he received the Davidoff Award from Montefiore Medical Center for his exceptional contributions to his department in teaching and leadership. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. Board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, he joins TIRR Memorial Hermann from the Spine Center at Kelsey Seybold Clinic in Houston. Under Dr. Vanodia’s leadership, TIRR Memorial Hermann will continue its work in advanced technologies for limb loss, such as osseointegration.