Adele L. Towers, MD, MPH, FACP, became the 154th president of the Allegheny County Medical Society Jan. 1, 2019. Only the fourth woman to hold the position, Dr. Towers originates from Connecticut, but has considered Pittsburgh her home since she moved to the Steel City in 1986 to complete her internal medicine residency at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. A fellowship in geriatric medicine and a master’s degree in Public Health followed in 1991.
Dr. Towers was introduced to the medical profession at a young age. Her father passed away when she was 14 years old, and the physicians and nurses that took care of him when he was ill had a lasting impact on her.
After completing an engineering degree at Cornell University, Dr. Towers entered the University of Connecticut, where she earned her medical degree. Her interest in internal medicine and geriatrics stemmed from her childhood, growing up around a lot of older adults as a result of her grandmother, aunt and uncle each having personal care facilities in their own homes. “I enjoyed hearing their stories and was interested in their medical issues,” Dr. Towers said. “It made sense to pursue internal medicine and transition into geriatrics.” She also was influenced by several professors of geriatrics during her medical training. They became more like mentors and helped to steer Dr. Towers toward the specialty of geriatric medicine.
As a medical student, Dr. Towers had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka for six weeks, which was a memorable and eye-opening experience. Describing it as very primitive and observing undesirable care of the elderly, Dr. Towers recalls seeing patients with rabies, tuberculosis and other diseases that were not prominent in the states. The experience was life-changing, and she would encourage all medical students to participate in an overseas mission trip if the opportunity presents itself.
Dr. Towers has been on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh since 1992 and is currently an associate professor of Medicine and Psychiatry in the Division of Geriatric Medicine. Her prior roles include medical director, Primary Care, at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic; vice chair of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety for the Department of Medicine; medical director of UPMC Health Information Management; and medical director of UPMC Home Health. She also served as president, Medical Staff, UPMC Presbyterian.
As medical director of UPMC Health Information Management for nearly seven years, Dr. Towers oversaw medical records at every UPMC hospital. The position required her to attend all the hospitals’ medical staff meetings, which enabled her to meet physicians throughout the health system and learn about the issues at each hospital. “Fulfilling that position made me aware of the need for physicians to communicate with each other and to be connected. We shared a lot of the same issues, and a lot of the same solutions could be applied at each hospital.”
During her tenure, the department developed two computer-assisted coding (CAC) tools that became quite successful. In 2013, Dr. Towers was invited to join the staff at UPMC Enterprises, which is dedicated to technology development for medical providers and insurance companies. She currently serves as senior clinical advisor and director of Risk Adjustment.
“I have been very fortunate to work with several of the start-up companies that UPMC has supported or initiated,” Dr. Towers said. “My primary focus is with a company called Health Fidelity. It is dedicated to helping providers and health plans succeed in utilizing new value-based models of care.” Dr. Towers welcomes individuals who have innovative ideas to improve healthcare to reach out to her.
In addition to her position at UPMC Enterprises and traveling throughout the country to educate providers about value-based models of care, Dr. Towers still sees patients at Benedum Geriatric Center at Montefiore Hospital. “I told them [UPMC Enterprises] that I could not talk the talk if I could not walk the walk,” describing her desire and need to stay connected to patient care.
Staying connected to patient care is one reason why Dr. Towers thinks active membership within the medical society is so important for physicians. “Right now, physicians feel like their authority has been removed in terms of provision of care or oversight of care for their patients,” she said. “Therefore, we need to be united in our efforts to retain that role as the leader in our patients’ care. It is important for us to keep our position at the table as the patient advocate.”
As ACMS president, Dr. Towers’ vision is one of unity, inclusion and support. This year is the first year where more than 50 percent of medical school enrollees are women, and Dr. Towers believes more work still needs to be done to support women who want to pursue medicine as a career, balanced with having a family.
Physician wellness and support of those experiencing burnout also are issues that she would like to address during her presidency. “Due to EMR, many things have been placed in the physician’s lap. We need to become more efficient with our healthcare teams, which means working with nurse practitioners and physician assistants collaboratively and not separately.”
Dr. Towers believes the medical society needs to continue to attract and retain members, which means finding out what issues affect physician well-being and figure out what resources it can provide to help the physician community to make them stronger and more unified.
In her spare time, Dr. Towers enjoys dancing, especially Argentine tango and ballroom. “I strongly encourage physicians to take up dancing as a hobby because it exercises both the body and mind.”
Dr. Towers also is an avid beekeeper, a hobby that she picked up five years ago as a result of her pumpkin plants not producing any pumpkins. Taking the advice of a wise onlooker, Dr. Towers obtained bees to help pollinate her plants. A year later, her plants produced 96 pumpkins, which she shared with everyone. Dr. Towers’ beekeeping hobby even helped her neighbors harvest plentiful pear trees and bountiful raspberry bushes.
Dr. Towers is the mother of three and resides in Wilkinsburg.