WakeMed congratulates Dr. Teresa Amerson (WakeMed Physician Practices - Primary Care) and Beth Rudisill (director, WakeMed Rehab Hospital) on receiving the 2015 Women in Business Award from the Triangle Business Journal (TBJ). According to the TBJ, these awards "recognize Triangle women who have proven to be dynamic and outstanding leaders with established track records of significant accomplishments in business and/or community service." The judges, including local business leaders and TBJ team members, reviewed nearly 100 entries to choose the 2015 winners.
Nomination for Theresa Amerson, MD
Associate Director of Primary Care, WakeMed Health & Hospitals
Primary Care Physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – City Center Medical Group
Dr. Amerson joined WakeMed Health & Hospitals in 2011 as a primary care physician. Within a year, she was promoted to associate director of Primary Care for the hospital system – quite an accomplishment at just 33 years old.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Dr. Amerson is currently pursuing board certification in the specialty of obesity medicine, a specific area of professional interest for her. “Our practice was looking to incorporate more specialized treatment for obese patients in the primary care arena in a coordinated way with the bariatric surgeons, nutritionists and physical therapists at WakeMed,” she explains.
That desire led Dr. Amerson to create an innovative, medically-directed weight loss program in 2014, aimed to help individuals work towards a healthier life. “Losing weight can be such a difficult task,” she explains. Her focus was to foster a close working relationship between physician and patient, working together to reach the patient’s weight loss goals.
A six-month pilot program for WakeMed employees kicked off in early 2014. The program was a success, resulting in an impressive 508 pound weight loss. A total of 27 WakeMed employees completed the program, each losing an average of 18 pounds and improving quality of life indicators across the board – reducing medications, achieving healthier blood sugar levels as well as lowering their BMI.
Dr. Amerson’s hope was to move toward offering a similar program to her patients. And it’s now a reality. The program is now open to her patients who need help with weight management.
Known as a Shared Medical Appointment (SMA) approach, Dr. Amerson is helping to lead the way in this type of care model, providing her patients with prompt access to her as well as a support team in a familiar, positive and comfortable setting. Patients transition from a one-on-one appointment with her to the SMA model, a small-group format which enables her patients to learn more, support one another and also develop a more meaningful relationship with their health care team.
“Patients who are well-informed, engaged and educated have the best success in achieving their health care goals – whether it’s losing weight, recovering from surgery or managing chronic conditions,” she adds.
Program sessions – which are limited to eight patients – are currently held on a recurring, weekly basis. Dr. Amerson anticipates adding new sessions as the program grows.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. is currently facing a shortage of approximately 9,500 primary care doctors. If that trend continues over the next 15 years, Americans will likely face a deficit of 65,000 family physicians.
While these numbers are worrisome, Dr. Amerson is doing her part to encourage medical students to consider practicing primary care.
“This is an exciting time in medicine,” she explains. “We are at a crossroads in health care, and we have the opportunity to reimagine how we deliver that care to our patients. I want to show young doctors that despite its challenges, primary care can be a very rewarding career path.”
She mentors a group of Park Scholarship students from NCSU (an alumni herself) who have expressed an interest in medicine. These undergrads volunteer at WakeMed’s downtown Raleigh primary care practice, getting a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to be a physician. “Mentoring is important to me as a way to give back to the program that provided me a college education and allowed me to pursue my career in medicine,” she says. “Through their work in our practice, these young people will hopefully experience the same joy and satisfaction I feel as a physician, which comes from serving others by bringing health and healing to my community.”
In addition to mentoring, Dr. Amerson has volunteered on the Park Scholarship selection committee for more than 10 years, reviewing applications and interviewing candidates. She has also served at Alliance Health Ministry as a volunteering physician during its weekend acute care clinic.
Nomination for Beth Rudisill, WakeMed Rehab Hospital
Director, WakeMed Rehab Hospital
In 1995, two years after Beth Rudisill went to work at WakeMed as a social worker, she approached her supervisor with a request.
“I think I want more,” Rudisill says she told her. “I loved working one-on-one with people, but I wanted to have a bigger impact. I had ideas.” Rudisill excelled at her extra assignments — serve on a committee here, investigate a problem there — all in addition to her existing caseload. While there may have been no immediate financial reward in her added workload, there was enormous payout in professional fulfillment and insight.
Today, as director of WakeMed’s Rehabilitation Hospital, Rudisill has the chance to make that impact on a daily basis.
Her rise to heading the 98-bed facility was marked by a series of steady advancements.
One of Rudisill’s early opportunities to make a difference was being appointed to the committee planning the Rehab Hospital’s innovative Health Park, a 40,000-square-foot rehab facility that replicates many of the common obstacles patients face in the outside world, from curbs, bridges and a variety of walking surfaces, to getting in and out of a car. She was also part of the planning that led to the creation of WakeMed Home Health in the late 1990s
She was appointed to her current position as director in 2006. Immediately, she was thrust into a rapidly changing health care industry that was trying to rein in costs while still offering high-quality care.
In rehab in particular, in which every case is unique and every patient responds to the rigors of recovery differently, the fine line between cost and quality of care was finer. WakeMed was a longstanding leader in complex rehab cases, often requiring more involved — and frequently longer — care.
“Stroke cases are our largest category, accounting for 26 to 30 percent of our patients,” says Rudisill. “Brain and spinal injuries are next.”
Maintaining that balance of quality care versus cost containment has required a team approach.
“Everyone who is involved in a case — physical therapists, occupational therapists, physicians, nurses, speech therapists, nutritionists, case workers — gets together before a patient is even admitted to discuss care.” At that point, a coordinated care plan is established with goals including how long treatment should take. They then discuss with the patient his or her goals to create the ‘ultimate’ goal and treatment plan.
Since insurance typically covers the cost of treatment, that goal is also presented to an insurance case worker. You might expect a difference of opinion of what health care providers think is needed and what the insurance providers is willing to pay for.
But in fact, for the months of November and December of 2014, of the 302 patients treated and discharged from WakeMed Rehab Hospital, only three had their treatment cut short by insurance.
A strong follow-up program, says Rudisill, also helps insure that very few patients return to the hospital.
Another reflection of WakeMed Rehab’s success is its recent three-year reaccreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), a human services accreditation agency. For the second time in a row, CARF surveyors made no recommendations for improvement, meaning that the on-site reviewers did not identify any areas of nonconformance. Only three percent of CARF surveys result in no recommendations. “This outstanding result is a reflection of the hard work our amazing team does day after day,” adds Beth. Surveyors recognized staff for their professionalism, the pride they take in their work and their commitment to care delivery.
When Rudisill became director of WakeMed’s Rehab Hospital in 2006, one of her challenges was convincing a dedicated staff that longer stays didn’t necessarily always result in better outcomes for the patient.
“It’s in the best interest of the patient to get back out into the world. And that’s typically what they want as well,” she explains.
Rudisill believes her background in social work — she has a B.S. in social work from N.C. State University and an a Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (in addition to a Master of Health Administration from Pfeiffer University) — has been instrumental in helping her as a leader.
“It helped me better understand body language, about what people weren’t saying but maybe felt,” says Rudisill. “It helped me with counseling people and it’s helped me with group dynamics.”
Rudisill also has a national reputation in the rehab industry. Since 2008, she’s been a surveyor for medical and aging services for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
A couple of years ago, Rudisill was attending service at her church, Providence Baptist in Raleigh, when it was announced that their fledgling Jobs for Life Program was in need of female teachers.
The international program takes unemployed members of the community with significant employment obstacles and helps them become employable. “And I mean major obstacles,” clarifies Rudisill. “People with felony convictions, mothers with four kids and no car, men and women who did not have a GED...”
The program includes an eight-week program that meets two evenings a week for two hours each, helping participants with everything from honing interview skills and building a strong resume, to simply helping them talk honestly about their situation and building their confidence.
“They’d had two sessions, both led by men,” says Rudisill. “Since most of the participants were women, they thought it would be good to have at least one female teacher.”
A few days later the announcement appeared in a church bulletin. Rudisill took it as a sign.
Today, as she’s about to enter her fifth session with the program, the normally exuberant Rudisill becomes even more so when she discusses Jobs for Life.
“I love it,” she says. “In the beginning, everyone is quiet and reserved. But then, about the fourth or fifth session, they start to come alive.”
In addition to the set curriculum, which includes homework, Rudisill tries to instill what’s truly important to an employer.
“I hire personality,” she says. “I’m convinced that any skill can be taught, but it’s the personality that indicates what kind of worker you’ll be.” Her goal: to help them overcome the obstacles they’ve encountered and let their true personalities shine through.
Rudisill has also been an active volunteer for the MS Society, serving varied roles and receiving the Norman Cohn Hope Award in 2009. She entered the National MS Society Volunteer Hall of Fame in 2010.