Remembering Rick Hermann

Date: February 4, 2020

By Peter Neumann, ScD, Director

Psychiatrist and health services researcher, Richard Hermann, M.D., M.S., passed away on January 16, 2020, at the age of 56. During his distinguished career, Rick conducted pioneering work at the Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge Hospital, and Tufts Medical Center on improving the quality of care in mental health services. He published widely on methods for assessing quality on topics, including: organizational factors associated with the effectiveness of hospital quality improvement activities; interventions to improve detection of substance-abuse problems; and variations in psychiatric practices. He was also the author of Improving Mental Healthcare: A Guide to Measurement-Based Quality Improvement (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2005).

In the 2000s, Rick was Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, as well as Director of the Center for Quality Assessment and Improvement in Mental Health (CQAIMH), Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center. In recent years, he served as Deputy Editor of Psychiatry at Up-to-Date, the online medical resource for physicians.

I met Rick in the mid-1990s when I was a junior faculty member at the Harvard School of Public Health, starting some research on the cost-effectiveness of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Rick was an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality fellow at Harvard, kicking off his own work on quality in mental health care. Professor Milton Weinstein connected us, thinking we had complementary skills and might work well together. As always, Milt was right. Over the next few years, we coauthored several papers on economic and quality of life issues in Alzheimer’s disease. I was struck by Rick’s energy, his insights, and his passion for his work. Unlike many researchers who roll from one project or paper to another, Rick had a vision for helping to transform his field -- measuring and improving quality in mental health care -- by making it more systematic, rigorous, and evidence based.

Rick loved books, politics, movies, gadgets, food, and theatre. In addition to his MD (from the University of Michigan) and an MS in epidemiology (from the Harvard School of Public Health), he received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Dartmouth. If he had a morning meeting in New York City and his schedule permitted, Rick would travel there from Boston the evening before and find a new play to see downtown.

One of Rick’s defining characteristic was his perceptiveness. He could see problems from different angles, ones you hadn’t thought of. If you asked him how to address a delicate situation with a colleague, Rick would listen carefully, ask a discerning question or two, and then, his psychiatric training enhancing his natural instincts, hypothesize thoughtfully about the motivations or backgrounds of the person involved.

After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007, Rick’s ability to conduct research was impaired, but it did not stop him. He continued to work, travel, and read widely. All of his friends and colleagues at Tufts Medical Center and elsewhere will miss him greatly and extend our deepest sympathies to his entire family.

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