New Rehabilitation Centers Act Honors AbilityLab’s Dr. Joanne Smith

January 3, 2023

On December 28, the Dr. Joanne Smith Memorial Rehabilitation Innovation Centers Act of 2022 was presented to President Joseph R. Biden to be signed into law. The new law pays tribute to Dr. Joanne Smith, who was a great rehabilitation pioneer, a visionary medical leader and an inspiring friend. After I sought her advice in the early days of developing, we became close colleagues. It was my honor to work with her as her idea for a groundbreaking new hospital that would bring together rehabilitation doctors, clinicians, patients and researchers took shape, and ultimately became the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. She was brilliant, dedicated, humane, caring and beautiful. Her death was a 
personal loss to all. It is perfectly fitting that the new Rehabilitation Innovation Centers Act bears her name.

Thea Flaum, President, Hill Foundation

The Dr. Joanne Smith Memorial Rehabilitation Innovation Centers Act recognizes the unique role that a leading class of rehabilitation hospitals plays in our health care system, by driving innovative research for the entire field, providing a high volume of medical training to students, and treating the highest-need patients across the country.

Dr. Joanne C. Smith
January 1, 1961 – September 6, 2021

The bill is named after Dr. Joanne Smith, who was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago—the nation’s top-ranked rehab hospital since 1991.

In the United States, there are more than 1,100 Medicare-certified inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Among these facilities are a small group of rehabilitation institutions that drive the future of rehabilitation care and medicine, as well as patient recovery.  This unique category of inpatient rehabilitation institutions conduct innovative research to advance the field of rehabilitation care, train the next generation of doctors, and treat the most complex conditions, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, childhood disease, burns, and wartime injuries. 

Specifically, the Dr. Joanne Smith Memorial Rehabilitation Innovation Centers Act of 2022:

  • Defines “Rehabilitation Innovation Center” as a rehabilitation facility that provides care for patients with highly complex conditions, conducts multidisciplinary rehabilitation research, and educates a high number of medical residents.

  • Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to disseminate best practices and lessons from these facilities and conduct a study on the adequacy of current payment rates for Rehabilitation Innovation Centers. As our federal health care system moves away from the fee-for-service payment model toward more value-based care, the study directed by this legislation will shape the analysis of reimbursement for post-acute care providers and Rehabilitation Innovation Centers.

“Dr. Joanne Smith was a passionate, visionary leader whose innovation propelled Shirley Ryan to be the gold standard in its field—providing hope to veterans with injuries, individuals with disabilities, children with birth defects, and many others,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D. IL) a Senate sponsor of the bill. “This legislation recognizes and supports the work of top rehab facilities nationwide focused on cutting-edge research, training new medical professionals, and providing quality care to patients with serious health conditions.”

“Most importantly, it will translate into better recoveries for more patients,” said Nancy Paridy, President and Chief Administration Officer of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

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