Miami Neuroscience Institute – 20 Years in the Making

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August 30, 2021

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Within the walls of Baptist Hospital of Miami and in the mind of now-retired neurosurgeon Sergio Gonzalez-Arias, M.D., the foundation for neurosciences and neurological care in South Florida was laid more than 20 years ago.

Today, because of the vision and collaborative work of Dr. Gonzalez-Arias, Miami Neuroscience Institute, now led by Michael McDermott, M.D., a neurosurgeon and the chief medical executive, has emerged as a powerful player in the arena of understanding, diagnosing and successfully treating diseases and conditions of the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the central nervous system.

For people living in South Florida, the level of clinical expertise that has been developed and brought here over the past 20 years means that they can have supreme confidence in the neurological care available in their backyard.   

Sergio Gonzalez-Arias, M.D., now retired, discusses a case with a multidisciplinary team during daily rounds about five years ago.

“In the early 1990s, I saw neurological care start to become specialized,” Dr. Gonzalez-Arias recalls. “At Baptist Hospital, it made sense to me that we should set up our care models to follow how the industry was evolving. We were leading the way with radiosurgery, already, as we were the first community hospital-based program in the state of Florida with this technology to treat brain tumors with radiation, rather than with traditional open surgery.”   

Getting People and Technology in Place

That’s when he and hospital administrators began their work to establish comprehensive neurological care in one place but with multiple specialties involved. Neurologists, neurosurgeons, critical care specialists, emergency room physicians, hospitalists, radiologists and nurses all had important roles to play and expertise to lend.

Now-retired neurosurgeon Sergio Gonzalez-Arias, M.D.

“We had to get all the right pieces in place – the people and the technology,” Dr. Gonzalez-Arias remembers about those early steps. “With the people, we had to overcome the competition that existed between private practice physicians and get the nurses specialized to care for patients recovering from stroke or neurosurgery. We also had to standardize care, which meant each specialty had to have a say in what worked best for diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr. Gonzalez-Arias says the multidisciplinary team hashed it out together and agreed to focus on patients in every aspect of care. That meant equipment – even surgical instruments – needed to be agreed upon by the team.

On Sept. 5, 2001, the forerunner to Miami Neuroscience Institute, Baptist Hospital Neuroscience Center, opened in Baptist Hospital. 

“That was the culmination of a lot of hard work, but it was just the beginning,” Dr. Gonzalez-Arias said.

Soon, Baptist Hospital Neuroscience Center developed a stroke team comprised of different specialties to respond quickly to patients coming into the Emergency Room with stroke symptoms. This rapid response has shown to improve outcomes and reduce disability or death among patients experiencing a stroke. A progressive care unit and an intensive care unit (ICU), each devoted to patients recovering from stroke and neurosurgery, followed suit as the Center added experts in neuro intervention and neuro critical care to its ranks.

The forerunner to Miami Neuroscience Institute, Baptist Hospital Neuroscience Center, opened in Baptist Hospital in September 2001.

“As we became more formalized and sub-specialization took root, we implemented multidisciplinary patient rounds each morning to discuss the patients in the progressive care and intensive care units,” Dr. Gonzalez-Arias said. “This was an important step in our evolution, because patients benefitted greatly from the input of clinicians from all the different sub-specialties.”

Achieving Prominence in Stroke and Spine Care

Nearing the first decade of the Center’s existence, a neurorehabilitation program was established to restore cognitive, physical and speech function and improve the quality of life for patients affected by stroke or other neurologic conditions. About a year later, Baptist Center for Spine Care – now, the Spine Center at Miami Neuroscience Institute – opened to address the management and treatment of back and neck pain, including chronic pain, and spinal conditions.

Around that time, too, The Joint Commission, which assesses healthcare organizations to ensure adherence to stringent safety and care standards, granted the Stroke Center its prestigious certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. This designation put Baptist’s stroke program on par with top hospitals around the United States for its swift stroke treatment measures – from clot-busting medications to endovascular treatment to restore blood flow in blocked arteries. The stroke team also earned recognition from the American Heart Association for meeting its Get with the Guidelines® Stroke standards.

In early 2011, the Epilepsy Program began, marking a significant milestone in the Center’s sub- specialization, with leading physicians, known as epileptologists, and catering to the care of epileptics living in South Florida, especially those who have failed previous treatments. Since opening, this program has been designated as a Level 4 Epilepsy Center, the highest-ranking for epilepsy care and management, by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers.

Partnership with Florida International University

Another important milestone was achieved in July 2010, when the Neuroscience Center partnered with Florida International University’s (FIU) Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine to provide a residency program for doctors interested in neuroscience.

“The addition of academia and our eventual ability to conduct and publish clinical research, which we began in 2013, were necessary to grow this program,” Dr. Gonzalez-Arias said. “We established ourselves as a Center focused on consolidated, evidence-based neurological care.”

Dr. Gonzalez-Arias left the Baptist Hospital Neuroscience Center in 2016 to become the Executive Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and continued performing radiosurgery at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health, until retiring in March of this year. Baptist’s neurosurgery technology and talent, and its interoperative MRI, distinguished the Neuroscience Center from other neuroscience programs across the United States. Also, the stroke and epilepsy programs and the Spine Center were drawing patients regionally from the southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central America. “We had positioned our community hospital as a leader in the neuroscience space,” Dr. Gonzalez said.  

New Leadership at Miami Neuroscience Institute

Michael McDermott, M.D., neurosurgeon and the chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute.

The Neuroscience Center caught the attention of Dr. McDermott, who was a professor in-residence, the Neurosurgical Residency Training Program director and co-director of the Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and Skull Base Surgery Programs at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. Dr. McDermott is considered a pioneer in the field of meningioma research and treatment of neurological disorders and complex tumors of the skull base and spinal cord, with more than 400 peer-reviewed publications credited to his name.

In 2020, Dr. McDermott took the helm of the Center, and it was renamed Miami Neuroscience Institute to show its enhanced level of expertise in the areas of neurology, neurosurgery and rehabilitation medicine and in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions of the central and peripheral nervous system. The new name also reflects its expanded coverage to other Baptist Health hospitals and outpatient centers across South Florida.

“Our 10-year plan is bold,” Dr. McDermott said about the future of Miami Neuroscience Institute and its ability to provide the best neurological care to the people of South Florida and beyond. “We’re continuing the work that Dr. Gonzalez-Arias envisioned and staying ahead of the curve with our growth.”

The Institute will become home to leading specialists in neurosciences, as Dr. McDermott sets his sights on attracting expert physicians and bringing innovative technology to make the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions better for patients. He and current Institute physicians are working to offer patients advanced brain imaging solutions, using new technology, such as Omniscient Neurotechnology, that helps determine problems with the brain’s functionality and abnormalities in its structure. Non-invasive treatments, such as offered by the Zap and Gamma Knife radiosurgery systems to treat brain tumors and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat depression, provide additional options.

Additionally, a new 60-bed acute rehabilitation hospital under construction near South Miami Hospital – a joint venture between Baptist Health and Kindred Healthcare – will offer much-needed rehabilitative services for patients recovering from neurosurgery or neurologic conditions, such as stroke. Plans to expand outpatient spine surgery beyond the Baptist Hospital campus are also in the works.    

The Institute will continue its partnership with FIU and its College of Medicine, Dr. McDermott says, to train the next generation of neuroscience physicians and to bolster neuroscience research.

“The program that Dr. Gonzalez-Arias began 20 years ago will, in the next five years, evolve into a formidable neuroscience institute,” Dr. McDermott said. “For patients and the South Florida community, having an institute of this caliber that is growing with research, technology and talent in their backyard is truly a benefit. Based on its history and our goals for the future, Miami Neuroscience Institute is poised to be a recognized leader in neurological care.”

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