Dr. Henry B. Betts

January 7, 2015

Henry-B-Betts-Obit-PhotoDr. Henry B. Betts, a giant of rehabilitation medicine, passed away on Jan. 4, 2015 in Chicago. He was 86.

“He was an extraordinarily gifted person, a tireless and compassionate physician and a remarkably thoughtful and passionate individual,” remembers Dr. Joanne C. Smith, CEO of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

“Dr. Betts was one of the first people I consulted for guidance,” said Thea Flaum, founder and creator of the “His wise advice, insights and belief in the website remain an inspiration to us today.”

Fifty years ago, Dr. Betts created a revolutionary program at Northwestern University’s Medical school, a new medical specialty called Rehabilitation Medicine. The idea was to not merely treat the disability, but also to help the patient discover a new way of living.

By creating a partnership between doctors and patients, he re-defined the treatment of people with disabilities. He established an academic program for medical students that has become one of the largest residency programs in the country. It trains more physicians in rehab medicine than any place in the world.

Under his leadership, the Rehabilitation Institute outgrew the small, outdated warehouse where it began to become the modern 18-story, 165-bed facility we see today. It has a comprehensive system of care that has earned an international reputation for innovation, patient care, research and education. It has been named the “number-one rehabilitation hospital in America” by U.S. News and World Report for the past 26 years.

“Henry Betts was more than a doctor, he was an advocate for disability rights,” said Flaum. “His work, and his strong vision are at the heart of disability culture. After all, he helped to invent it, by putting a human face on the whole idea of rehabilitation. In a nutshell, he guided the work of rehabilitation medicine into a world respected specialty that inspired patients and doctors to find the best in themselves.”


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