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Residency Alumni: Elissa Charonneau, DO
By: MossRehab Admin
Aug 5 2016
Then: MossRehab/ Temple resident 1989 to 1992

Now: Chief Medical Officer, HealthSouth Corp., Portland, Maine

Elissa (Lisa) Charbonneau, DO, remembers that she first became interested in the field of rehabilitation as a medical student, while she was undergoing training in a medical-surgical unit.

“I was always curious about my patients’ journeys after they left the medical-surgical unit,” says Dr. Charbonneau. “When I did a few rotations in hospitals that had rehabilitation units, I always liked to visit my patients in rehabilitation. I’d think, for example, about my patient who had recently had a stroke, and I would wonder what his life was going to be like after he left the acute phase of his hospitalization.”

Also drawn to the field of neurology and brain injury in particular, Dr. Charbonneau eventually pursued some elective rotations in rehabilitation medicine. During a rotation at the International Center for the Disabled in New York City, she was encouraged by a physiatrist to continue to explore the field. This mentor was the first physiatrist she had ever met, and she says his enthusiasm for this specialty area of medicine was palpable. After another rotation, at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York, she began researching residency programs with a focus on rehabilitation, and found that she was most drawn to the program at MossRehab.

“I was newly married at the time and wanted to leave New York, but stay on the East Coast.” says Dr. Charbonneau. “MossRehab was very highly rated and of all of the programs very state-of-the-art. Moss was my first choice, so I was very happy when I was accepted to the program.”

Dr. Charbonneau says that she was lucky to have several inspirational role models during her three years of residency, beginning with attending physician Gary Goldberg, MD, whom she first met while she was still interviewing.

“We had a great conversation and really clicked, and he continued to be a mentor throughout my years of residency,” she says. “Other mentors who really stand out in my mind include Dr. Nathaniel Mayer and Dr. John Whyte, who are both very highly regarded experts in the field of brain injury. Both were extremely inspirational and to this day I am still in awe of both of them. I also feel gratitude for what I learned from Dr. [Alberto] Esquenazi, while working in his gait lab and with patients with amputation, and Dr. Sridhara for teaching me electrodiagnostics. And, I was very lucky to have Dr. Margarita Torres as a role model—someone who was not only a remarkably talented physiatrist but also a woman physician and a mom.”

Dr. Charbonneau recalls that she was particularly impressed by the team-oriented approach at MossRehab.

“We had a great group of residents when I was there, and we would work together as a very cohesive team. I enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach taken during long team meetings devoted to reviewing the progress of various patients,” says Dr. Charbonneau, who was one of three chief residents during her last year at MossRehab.

Thanks in large part to another former MossRehab resident, Michael Totta, MD, Dr. Charbonneau was recruited by the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in picturesque Portland, Maine shortly after she completed her residency. Dr. Totta, who worked at the hospital at the time, lured her to Maine with high praise for the hospital and beautiful photos of lighthouses by the ocean. After the hospital was purchased by HealthSouth, Dr. Charbonneau stayed on and eventually worked as medical director for 14 years. In January, 2015, she was asked to start a new department at HealthSouth as vice president of Medical Services. She was named chief medical officer in July 2015.

Today Dr. Charbonneau oversees the clinical operations of HealthSouth’s 122 inpatient rehabilitation hospitals across the country. Her daily work involves launching and participating in initiatives to improve clinical outcomes, reduce unnecessary readmissions to acute care, and streamline the care of rehabilitation patients across the post-acute care continuum.

“I feel very passionate about the care that we provide to patients in our inpatient rehabilitation hospitals,” says Dr. Charbonneau, “And I feel strongly that it’s important for us to advocate for our patients to ensure that inpatient rehabilitation is an option for appropriate patients, especially after recent changes, which have had an impact on the post-acute care services that Medicare patients are entitled to receive.”

Like leaders at MossRehab, Dr. Charbonneau makes a point of reaching out to politicians and organizational leaders who shape healthcare policies.

“I think it is essential that we have a seat at the table for discussions with the people who are making decisions on behalf of the government,” she says, “to ensure that our patients are able to receive the services that they need to fully recover from their injuries or illnesses.”
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