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2015 Outstanding Clinicians Awards: Thomas Wright, MD

July 9, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Thomas Wright, MD

Thomas Wright, MD

Position: Chief medical officer

Organization: Rosecrance Health Network, Rockford, Ill.

Quote: “I can't lose touch with the front lines. I would turn into a very bad leader if I didn't continue to do the work too.”

Comment from a colleague: “Dr. Wright is a caring and compassionate clinician, as well as an admirable leader who exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader.”

 

Thomas Wright, MD, first interviewed at Rosecrance Health Network as a favor to the dean of the medical school where he directed training efforts. Finding an addiction treatment organization with only two physicians on staff but a growing interest in launching care integration initiatives, he figured he could handle a 120-mile round-trip commute for a few years.

Now 11 years into the job, Wright has been instrumental in building a medical staff of around 10 full-time equivalents (two dozen individuals total) and a culture that is about care broadly, not simply addiction treatment or mental health services.

“I never understood the distinction in the field,” says Wright, 55. “They're all psychiatric disorders.”

But where one might expect the talk to focus narrowly on medical interventions in an organization evolving in this way, Wright and his Rosecrance colleagues more often speak of the many contributing factors to recovery. Wright uses the term “the 10% rule” to describe how for many, a combination of variables that each contribute a small share of the credit is at work (from 12-Step involvement to family integration to medication-assisted treatment to interventions for comorbid medical conditions, etc.).

In working with the medical staff, Wright has earned respect by not being reluctant to step in when a colleague is overburdened. “I might give one of the psychiatrists a day to do notes and catch up by seeing her patients,” he says.

Services tailored to special populations have been a hallmark of Rosecrance's efforts. Each of the initiatives takes a broad-based approach by looking at other health issues that might have an impact on the course of addiction and recovery. The organization's dual diagnosis unit gives priority status to military veterans seeking admission, with a focus on trauma issues.

With evidence that sleep quality can have an impact on recovery, Rosecrance under Wright's direction has prioritized sleep solutions for the adolescent treatment population, even changing ingrained treatment schedules to emphasize optimal sleep times for youths. One plan that is in the works in the organization involves training counseling and nursing staff in cognitive-behavioral techniques to combat insomnia, in an effort to de-emphasize the need for medication treatments.

For all of these types of initiatives, a Client Care Continuum Committee made up mainly of Rosecrance direct-care staff reviews programs to determine if there is sufficient evidence for their implementation and if the staff resources are there to carry out the practices.

Looking ahead, Wright sees a continuation of the effort to conduct more biological interventions. “We're working with the medical school to establish a psychiatry residency in Rockford,” he says. “And we really want to grow our ability to do integrated medicine.”

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