BY MELISSA GAUTIER | PHOTO BY KELLEY SWEET PHOTOGRAPHY
For more than 60 years, TIRR Memorial Hermann has provided customized rehabilitation and treatment programs incorporating personal performance goals tailored to meet each patient’s individual needs. Rhonda M. Abbott, chief executive officer and senior vice president of TIRR Memorial Hermann, Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital-Katy, and the Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network, ensures successful transitions of care are maintained throughout rehabilitation and beyond. “It’s not just about patient care,” Rhonda says. “It’s a much broader picture.” She leads the TIRR mission forward, serving as a voice for patient advocacy at the national level while striving for TIRR Memorial Hermann to be the world’s standard for rehabilitation and research.
“My career journey has been a series of fortunate events,” Rhonda says. “I feel like physical therapy was a calling for me to give back the quality of life that people deserve.” Since 2001, Rhonda has held integral roles within TIRR Memorial Hermann. Her career path began as an intern in the Patient Pediatric Program at TIRR in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. From there, she joined the spinal cord injury and specialty rehabilitation program as a staff therapist. “I loved providing direct patient care in addition to teaching and mentoring,” she says. She earned successive promotions to director of therapy services and director of clinical programs, vice president of operations, and chief operating officer. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic response where healthcare has stood at the forefront of the fight, Rhonda was placed into the interim CEO role and subsequently promoted to CEO in December 2020.
Currently, Rhonda oversees TIRR Memorial Hermann’s continued excellence in rehabilitative care, research, advocacy, and education across the Memorial Hermann Health System. Under her leadership, she has led clinical care redesign initiatives, translational research efforts, quality care improvements, expansion of therapy education programs, and efficiency improvements. As a provider of exceptional patient experiences, she continues to ground the system as a leader in medical rehabilitation and research. Advocating for individuals with disabilities, her passion and commitment to neurorehabilitation through teaching and mentoring is equaled by her enthusiasm for leadership.
“I’ve always believed you can lead from anywhere, regardless of what position you are in,” Rhonda says. Her leadership has facilitated a remarkable achievement of goals within the Memorial Hermann rehabilitation system. “It is an amazing opportunity to support our teams and physicians with a servant mentality,” she explains. “This fall, it will be my 20th year at TIRR. When you are responsible for a caseload of patients, you are able to make a difference for those 6 patients. In this role, I apply that same difference to make an impact on a much larger scale in meaningful ways, bringing hope for the future to many.” The hospital’s strong focus on restoring patients’ independence and reintegration into the community maintains the dignity and respect of people’s emotional and physical needs.
As CEO, Rhonda is responsible for the hospital’s vision and strategy. “The vision is the most exciting part,” she admits. With the flagship program of five inpatient facilities, seven outpatient locations, and a research arm, the comprehensive rehab network has the ability to positively influence even more people for long-term recovery and advocacy. “We have raised the bar on what we are providing,” she explains. “We are continuing to build on the legacy that has been built before us.”
TIRR Memorial Hermann, an acute rehabilitation hospital, is an internationally recognized leader in rehabilitation and research. Its comprehensive network of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation care addresses the individual needs of patients who have experienced catastrophic injuries or illnesses. Blending passionate staff, exemplary care, and a firm commitment to overall quality of life, TIRR Memorial Hermann has distinguished itself as an outstanding facility and continuum of care.
TIRR Memorial Hermann treats persons with brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries and diseases, medically complex patients, neuromuscular disorders, orthopedic and trauma, amputee and limb loss, and cancer. Capability combined with cutting-edge technology and equipment allows the rehabilitation team to provide first-class services to the community.
Located in the world-renowned Texas Medical Center since 1959, TIRR Memorial Hermann empowers patients to become the best version of themselves. Landmark breakthroughs in research, education, and provision of care attract top-tier physicians, therapists, nurses, and rehabilitation experts to its interdisciplinary, team-based approach to streamlined care and education.
Eliminating Barriers and Changing Perceptions
Rhonda is an advocate for The ReelAbilities Houston Film & Arts Festival, promoting inclusion and celebrating lives, stories, and talents of people with disabilities both locally and nationally. The annual festival’s powerful impact helps to remove the stigma and barriers associated with disabilities, using art as a vehicle to promote inclusion and amplify people’s voices.
Rhonda earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical science from Texas A&M University, a master’s degree in physical therapy from Texas Woman’s University, and her MBA from West Texas A&M University. Throughout her tenure, TIRR Memorial Hermann’s campus in the Texas Medical Center has continued to demonstrate national recognition as a leader in rehabilitation, as determined by U.S. News & World Report. Overseeing strategic planning, Rhonda also led TIRR expansion efforts and clinical practice leveling across their system, helping to secure CARF accreditation at three Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network locations and providing therapy direction both at TIRR Memorial Hermann and Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network and expansion of the rehabilitation education program.
Rhonda’s professional associations include board of directors member for the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association, member of the American Physical Therapy Association and American College of Healthcare Executives, Texas Physical Therapy Association Tom Waugh Leadership Development Fellow, champion of Women Leaders of Memorial Hermann, graduate of the Center for Houston’s Future Business/Civic Leadership Forum, and an advocate for the ReelAbilities Film Committee.
Married for 22 years, Rhonda and her husband met while in college at Texas A&M University. They have two teenage sons and reside in the Cypress area.
Houston, Texas 77030