Dr. Mark J. Gloth was named the chief medical officer for Gilchrist in September bringing more than 25 years of experience as a physician executive. Growing up in the Baltimore area, the position gives him an incredible opportunity to have an impact on his hometown.
He notes the importance of health care leaders not only being compassionate and engaged but also understanding the health care industry from an operational perspective as well as from a clinical care perspective. “Having that perspective and helping industry leaders realize health care comes first, if you provide good quality of care, everything else meaning the business falls into place,” he said.
The Maryland Daily Record reached out to Gloth for a Q & A with a wide range of topics from his goals for Gilchrist to handling the worker shortage. (This interview was lightly edited due to space constraints.)
Maryland Daily Record (MDR): What first drew you to physical medicine and rehabilitative area of medicine?
Dr. Mark J. Gloth (MJG): I was a journalism major, creative writing major in college and I was doing volunteer work at The Children’s Guild. I went to Loyola here in Maryland. I was meeting with a group and we had an individual, her name was Katie McGuire, came in from the Muscular Dystrophy Association and they were looking for volunteers for their summer camp. I thought that would be cool, that it would be a fun thing to do to go work with kids and spend a week in Southern Maryland on the bay.
I went and fell in love with the other volunteers, the kids, the whole work of just working with kids and helping them add quality to their life, giving them freedoms and levels of independence and helping them be normal kids who got to swim and canoe and play. Most of the kids have difficulty with ambulation, with walking. Many of them were in wheelchairs and society, in school, friends and their neighborhood just looked at them as kids that had Muscular Dystrophy and camp was one of those places where they got to really be — for lack of another word — normal. Just normal kids that got to have fun and got to do things. Things became really accessible.
….We really got to help them be abled and enabled and to really embrace life and just expand their horizons and have these moments of joy. I loved that. I ended up doing it for almost 20 years. I went back every single year. I think that is probably what really changed my trajectory. I was a sophomore in college at the time. I was impacted in such a significant way and I thought ‘This is something I would really want to do with my life — to be able to have an impact and make a difference.
That really drove me to medical school but it was really working with individuals that had impairments and had disabilities and the ability as doctors, so much of the way you are trained is to add the number of years to someone’s life to help them live longer. As a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, I really saw the ability for me to add quality of life to those years.
… People say to me all the time you are in physical medicine and rehab and now you are in hospice and working with geriatric seniors and palliative care but it is the same thing. It is really about adding quality to the life that someone has regardless of whether that is years that they have left or whether it is months or weeks or in many cases in hospice it is days and being able to impact a fellow human being that way — for me there was no greater calling and no greater ability for me to have an impact on the world.
MDR: What made you want to focus a majority of your career on managing health care industry functions?
MJG: I was working as a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and I was giving a lecture one day and somebody said to me — I was talking about rehab and the benefits of that on the community … someone said ‘Dr. Gloth what happens when your patients leave the hospital? How do you follow them? What do they do? What type of rehabilitation do they get?’
The answer to the question was many of those individuals particularly seniors go into skilled nursing facilities and I talked about that a little bit and they said ‘So what is your involvement with skilled nursing facilities?’ and my answer was I referred people to skilled nursing facilities and I thought ‘Wow. That is not a good answer. I should learn more about this.’
It was pretty early on in my career. I reached out to a local skilled nursing facility. I asked if I could help out and learn a little bit about what they do and they asked me to come on as a rehabilitation consultant. I became a regional rehabilitation consultant and then a divisional rehabilitation consultant. I saw that there was a need for physicians to be more engaged in the post-acute care world and skilled nursing, and assisted living, memory care hospice much more than they were at that time.
(About 17 to 18 years later he moved fully from clinical to administrative.)
I really did it because I thought that I would have the ability to have an impact on a larger number of individuals particularly seniors in an arena of health care that did not have — at that time — really any significant physician or medical leadership or oversight. I thought this is the opportunity to really have an impact and make a difference in the industry and help educate other physicians, other clinicians how to engage with seniors in the post-acute care environment and really develop something unique in the industry.
MDR: In September, you were named Gilchrist’s chief medical officer. What are your top goals for your new position?
MJG: I am stepping in as the second chief medical officer in the 40-year history of Gilchrist. Founding chief medical officer Tony Riley is an icon not only in the local community but nationally from a hospice and palliative care perspective. I tell people all the time — I am not taking his place. I am grabbing the baton and continuing to build upon the great work that he has done in building this program.
I think for me it is really making sure that we continue to address the continuum of care for seniors. … For me, as I look at where we are moving in the future, I am looking at where seniors are going. When the hospice benefit first came around in the early ’80s, it was focused on two primary things: cancer and AIDS. Those were the two big reasons that hospice was established back in the early ’80s and that the federal government provided funds to support the hospice benefit.
(The world has changed over the past four decades and hospice care largely now sees patients with dementia.)
It is really looking at how we can meet the needs of the dementia population early in their course, being able to provide support to the community for individuals and education for those that have dementia, but also making sure we are there for not only the patients but their families in that journey with this cognitive disorder with this disease and that we are there as they transition from life to death and being able to support them and their families and then after those individuals die, making sure we are there for bereavement to support the community that had surrounded them during that period.
(They also need to have a continued outreach to the frail elders in our community.)
We really do have to make sure that we address the social determinance of health so looking at our seniors who were isolated in the community (due to COVID-19 restrictions) and making sure there is outreach support not only from a medical perspective but from a medical social worker perspective and a community support perspective. Making sure we address the needs for transportation, food and engagement that are so incredibly important for our seniors.
… Innovation would be the third thing. Looking at innovative ways to provide health care to our community. Lots of bad things happened with COVID. One of the few positive things we can take out of it is our ability to tap into and fast-forward technology to support our communities (including through) telehealth and telemedicine. But also looking at innovative ways to treat seniors. We are partnering with the PACE program, a national PACE program which is a program for all-inclusive care for the elderly. This is a program that is built on keeping seniors at home and keeping them out of skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities and hospitals in particular. … I think tapping into ways that we can be more innovative to help our seniors age at home and in their community with their support systems in place is going to be critically important.
MDR: There is a national shortage of workers especially in elder care. How is Gilchrist handling the shortage?
MJG: It is a difficult situation. There is no question about that. Post-COVID we have seen lots of people leave the health care industry because of caregiver burnout, fear and refocusing where their priorities are and certainly we are not immune to that at Gilchrist. We are a hallmark institution in the community and people that come to work in-house or palliative care medicine are unique. This is as much of a passion as it is a career as it is a job. We already do attract a unique group of individuals simply because of the work that we do. The type of individual that it really takes to work with people at the end of life — it is difficult work but it is incredibly rewarding work. We are very fortunate that we have a high-tenured population of really dedicated employees who have an incredible network. We also have an incredible network of volunteers.
For us, we are certainly like everyone else looking to make sure we continue to reach out and attract the best health care providers we can from a physician standpoint and a nurse standpoint and will continue to reach out to the community to do that.