TIRR Memorial Hermann opened its doors in 1959 as the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), one of the country’s first rehabilitation hospitals. Over the span of 55 years, the institution has grown into a national leader in interdisciplinary rehabilitation, clinical care, education and research. Last fall, the hospital celebrated another milestone when the TIRR Memorial Hermann Research Center was completed and diverse research programs came together under one roof for the first time, creating new synergy between researchers, disciplines and programs.
“Historically, our research programs have developed their protocols independently of each other,” says Mark Sherer, PhD, ABPP, FACRM, senior scientist and director of research at TIRR Memorial Hermann and a clinical professor in the departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Because of the lack of space on our Campus, they were housed in several locations, including leased space outside the Texas Medical Center. Many of us had the idea of a research institute where cross-pollination of ideas could take place, but we had no idea that the possibility of renovating a building so close to the hospital would arise.”
TIRR Memorial Hermann owned a long-vacant 42,000-square-foot building adjacent to the main hospital facility, purchased from UTHealth and formerly known as the UT Speech and Hearing Institute. During the 1970s and 1980s, the building housed Baylor College of Medicine research programs and TIRR Memorial Hermann offices in space leased from UTHealth.
“The availability of a building so close to the hospital gave us the opportunity to bring all of our researchers together to promote synergy between the researchers themselves and also between the researchers and the hospital’s clinical team,” says Gerard Francisco, MD, chief medical officer at TIRR Memorial Hermann and professor and chair of the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School. “In most institutions research is conducted in silos that do not foster collaboration. Early on, we made the decision to change the status quo by designing an open layout that would encourage communication. We hope that bringing researchers in disparate disciplines together will change the way research is done in our field.”
Lex Frieden, director of the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program, one of several research programs located in the new center, remembers the building before the renovation. “The original structure looked like a three-story, above-ground bunker. Concrete made the building seem chilling, and there were few windows, which gave it the uninviting feel of a fortress. The artificial lighting was old neon that gave off an eerie blue haze and made some people physically ill. Despite the fact that it was not a comfortable building, many talented people did good, meaningful work there. The new building gives a sense of reawakening that’s inspirational to people like me who knew it when it was old and tired. Suddenly, we see new space.”
The dramatic transformation took more than three years to accomplish, from funding to finish. “We knew we needed to grow our Campus and also find room nearby for our researchers,” says Carl Josehart, CEO. “The old building was about the right size. We explored the idea of demolishing it and rebuilding, but we discovered it had good bones. It was structurally sound, and a renovation required a smaller investment, which felt fiscally responsible. It was also more environmentally friendly because we could repurpose an existing structure. We wouldn’t have sacrificed function to keep the building, but we wanted to honor the contributions that came out of it and breathe new life into it.”
Funds raised through the Memorial Hermann Foundation’s successful Revolutionizing Neuroscience initiative helped make the renovation a reality. Filled with natural light, the new building invites interaction between the interior and exterior. An indoor dining room extends onto an outdoor patio, and its location across from Hermann Park allows researchers who work in one of the world’s largest medical centers to look outside and see green lawn and foliage. Landscaping, color choices and photos of Hermann Park that decorate the 1st floor are among the elements that foster the idea of nature brought inside.
Dr. Sherer remembers the building from his first tenure at TIRR Memorial Hermann and Baylor College of Medicine from 1991 to 1997. “It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to repurpose a building that was in such bad condition,” he says. “Few of the interior walls were structural, which allowed for their removal, creating an open space. An overhead walk connects our building to the hospital. These are separate buildings built at different times yet the overall effect pulls them together, creating the feeling that they were always connected.”
Josehart calls the smooth move into the new building a testament to the thought that went into its planning and the success of the design in meeting the researchers’ needs. “There’s a sense that we’ve always been there,” he says. “People moved in and went right to work. Computers were on, and people were talking on the phone. No one looked lost. In designing the building and planning the move, we were able to use the same skills we use to help people plan for a smooth transition back to the community.”
In the new building, researchers work together in the same space and share the same elevator, coffee room and copiers, offering opportunities for new relationships to develop. “The history of rehabilitation is replete with collaboration, which has led to breakthroughs in treatment and community reintegration,” Frieden says. “That same legacy applies to our move to the new building.”
Internationally renowned academic physiatrist William H. Donovan, MD, who retired as medical director of TIRR Memorial Hermann and chair of the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School in 2009, after 28 years of service, says a long-term dream has finally been realized. “We recognized the benefits of having researchers close to clinicians but never had the opportunity to make that happen,” Dr. Donovan says. “TIRR Memorial Hermann has always excelled in translational research, taking knowledge gained through research and applying it in the clinical setting. The proximity of researchers studying traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury fully integrates the hospital’s mission of research, teaching and clinical care. Close collaboration between researchers and clinicians was the original intention of TIRR Memorial Hermann’s founder, Dr. William A. Spencer. Were he alive today, he would surely be most pleased.”
A sweeping, open pathway leads from the parking lot in front of the building to the doorway, inviting staff and visitors to enter. “It’s about a hundred steps from the hospital. You can leave the hospital through the back door, go down a sidewalk, take a right turn and you’re in the new building,” says Frieden. “It’s the personification of the vision of many people but Carl invested a lot of himself into making the research center a reality. He didn’t turn any screws or pound any nails, but he provided the leadership we needed. It’s a significant step forward for us as an institution.”
Dr. Sherer considers it far more than a renovation. “Open space has replaced concrete cubicles, with a nice balance between privacy and connectedness,” he says. “If you want to stop by and talk to a colleague, you can. If you want to work uninterrupted in your office, you have privacy and quiet. It’s a rebirth.”
from the hospital. You can leave the hospital through the back door, go down a sidewalk, take a right turn and you’re in the new building,” says Frieden. “It’s the personification of the vision of many people but Carl invested a lot of himself into making the research center a reality. He didn’t turn any screws or pound any nails, but he provided the leadership we needed. It’s a significant step forward for us as an institution. ”Dr. Sherer considers it far more than a renovation. “Open space has replaced concrete cubicles, with a nice balance between privacy and connectedness,” he says. “If you want to stop by and talk to a colleague, you can. If you want to work uninterrupted in your office, you have privacy and quiet. It’s a rebirth.”
1951 - The Southwestern Poliomyelitis Respiratory Center opens in an annex to Harris County’s Jefferson Davis Hospital, the teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine, in response to the polio epidemic sweeping the nation.
1959 - TIRR, the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, opens its doors in the Texas Medical Center. As polio becomes less of a universal threat, the hospital focuses on the rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord deterioration caused by disease or trauma, pioneering the interdisciplinary team approach to rehabilitation
1962 - TIRR establishes its Spinal Cord Injury Program and is designated a national Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) for Rehabilitation Medicine by the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration of the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Research conducted through its affiliation with Baylor College of Medicine makes the hospital an international leader in improving patient care.
1963 - TIRR becomes an important early research partner with NASA.
1964 - TIRR founder and director William A. Spencer, MD, is named Physician of the Year by President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Employment of the Handicapped.
1970 - An annex to TIRR, acquired through donated funds, increases the hospital’s inpatient bed capacity and makes possible a unique residential program.
1972 - TIRR’s Spinal Cord Injury Program is named a Model Spinal Injury Treatment System. The Cooperative Living Program and the Maximum Independence Center, the nation’s first residential independent living programs for people with severe physical disabilities, are started at an annex near downtown Houston.
1977 - The Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program is established as a national resource center providing research, training and technical assistance.
1978 - The hospital changes its name to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research to emphasize its national and international service.
1984 - TIRR opens its inpatient Brain Injury Program.
1985 - The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) designates TIRR as a national Research and Training Center on Independent Living.
1987 - NIDRR names the hospital’s Brain Injury Program a Model System.
1990 - U.S. News & World Report announces its first America’s Best Hospitals list. TIRR is named in this nationwide survey of physicians and has been included every year since. The innovative Challenge Program, begun at TIRR as part of the Brain Injury Program, opens its facility in southwest Houston, in keeping with TIRR’s philosophy of community-based service programming.
1992 - The Southwest Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC), one of 10 federally designed regional technical assistance centers on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is established at TIRR.
1993 - McGovern Medical School establishes a department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. TIRR affiliates with the medical school that same year, while continuing its affiliation with Baylor College of Medicine.
1996 - The departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine and McGovern Medical School form the Baylor/UTHealth PM&R Alliance.
2001 - TIRR Adult and Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation at Kirby Glen opens in southwest Houston.
2006 - TIRR joins the Memorial Hermann Health System and becomes TIRR Memorial Hermann, one of 12 hospitals in the not-for-profit system known for clinical expertise, patient-centered care, leading-edge technology and innovation.
2012 - TIRR Memorial Hermann begins the creation of a comprehensive, integrated rehabilitation network extending beyond the Texas Medical Center to outlying communities in the Greater Houston area.
2013 - The TIRR Memorial Hermann Research Center opens adjacent to the hospital, uniting the hospital’s research programs under one roof and creating an integrated Campus where the critical components of clinical care and research come together for the benefit of patients.