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2009 Outstanding Clinicians Awards: Ruthann Adam, LCDC

January 1, 2009
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Ruthann Adam was 13 years into her sobriety when she began to pursue work in the addiction treatment field for a second career. She worked in admissions at Memorial Hermann before becoming clinical director for the prevention and recovery operation about two years ago. “It was more in my manager's mind for me to advance,” she says. “He said I would make a good director.”

Adam is linked to a number of addiction treatment innovations in the large and nationally known health system, including establishment of a treatment team fluent in Spanish and a continuing care program that routinely attracts more than 250 participants on Saturday mornings. Her observations about the multifaceted needs of the patients Memorial Hermann serves have usually led her to pursue a new certification for herself and a new treatment track for the center.

“The patients continue to need longer lengths of stay, but the resources are not always available,” Adam says. “We make sure that somehow the patients get what they need; we don't turn patients away.”

Adam is a strong believer in meeting the needs of patients through the cooperative activity of a multidisciplinary treatment team. “We need to look at the whole person, so we can put this puzzle together,” she says. “I want to hear from everyone. I listen to my counselors and I listen to the other doctors. I learn from the other clinicians.”

Adam, who in 2005 was named member of the year by the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, oversees a clinical staff of about 35 for an operation of 90 inpatient beds and 100 outpatient slots. But in some ways she believes it is the patients who run the operation, in the sense that their needs dictate both the individualized treatment approaches and the general programming that is made available to all.

She looks for counselors who respect patients and are teachable and ethical. “I see enthusiastic people wanting to come into the field,” she says.

Adam adds that she has learned from past supervisors that it is possible to be firm and compassionate with clients at the same time. This approach was embodied in a T-shirt that one of her first groups of patients admiringly created for her. The shirt pictured a dog with a chain in its mouth and a fitting takeoff on her first name: “Ruthless.”

Position: Clinical program director

Organization: Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center, Houston

Age: 51

Quote: “We're always working with counseling interns; my concern is that I don't want to just let them loose on the patients. They are attached at the hip with other counselors, for at least 500 to 1,000 hours. We have to find out if they're serious about doing this, and if they have the temperament.”

Comment from nominator: “She has led the diversification of the clinical programs to include a focused young adult program curriculum (18-24 year olds) and an executives and professionals program that works closely with state organizations that monitor nurses, physicians, pharmacists and other licensed professional groups,” writes Matthew Feehery, Memorial Hermann's CEO for behavioral health services. “Ruthann also helped assemble a top-notch bilingual treatment team to serve the cultural and language needs of Hispanic individuals, thereby creating one of the few Spanish-speaking residential programs in the U.S.”

Photographer: John Lynch Addiction Professional 2009 January-February;7(1):10

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