Spaulding Chief Able to Combine Work and Home in Charlestown

When it comes to commuting home, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital President David Storto gets in his car and prepares to drive…about one minute.

That’s if he even uses a car at all.

The president of the sparkling new rehab hospital at the tip of the Navy Yard came to be well known in Charlestown civic circles during the construction and opening of the hospital two years ago, and worked so closely with the community that he decided to join it.

Now a Charlestown resident for a few years, he said he and his wife don’t intend to leave anytime soon.

“After living in Concord for 17 years, my wife and I decided to move to the city, though we didn’t know what part of Boston we wanted to live and so we decided to rent in Charlestown,” said Storto, 60. “We thought it would be a short-term thing until we decided where to buy something. However, we’ve renewed our second lease here and now plan on living indefinitely in Charlestown. We love the community and the Navy Yard and seeing the development of the area. The Lagasses are doing a great job with the new marina here next to the hospital. Charlestown is such a nice blend of the Townies that have been around each other for generations and have grown up here and the transplant Toonies, which is the category my wife and I fall into. At one point, I thought there might be animosity between the two groups, but we’ve found that’s not the case. Everyone is looking out for the community and there are many activists.”

Spaulding decided to relocate to the former vacant lot in Charlestown from its long time West End headquarters several years ago in order to make their facility into a world class rehabilitation hospital.

“Part of what brought me here was to see Spaulding grow,” he said. “I felt it had so much more potential…In the hospital rankings, Spaulding was coming in at 14 or 15 routinely. In the last couple of years, though, it’s been number 4, 5, or 6. It’s really notable to be one of the top hospitals in the country. The facility here now supports that top status in the world. As I said when we opened the facility, ‘We took rehab out of the basement.’ We wanted to make a real bold statement about rehabilitation medicine. We didn’t want to settle for mediocrity in the facility.”

That process, however, wasn’t altogether easy or smooth.

Residents of Charlestown had a lot of concerns about the idea of a hospital coming to the Navy Yard – including traffic and construction-related issues like trucking contaminated soils off site. That was all worked out in many community meetings, but there were still lingering questions.

The hospital, however, took on new meaning for the community when it opened, which was scheduled for 12 days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. With that seminal event occurring simultaneously, and then the Spaulding playing such a major part in the rehabilitation of scores of bombing victims – including Boston’s own Jane Richard and her family – the special role of transformative rehabilitation medicine being practiced right in Charlestown took on a new light.

One sign of that, Storto said, was when the Basilica condos next door – which had been very concerned about the abutting project during planning – put out a sign on the one-year anniversary of the bombing.

“The Basilica put up a huge banner that said, ‘Thank You Spaulding,’ on the one-year anniversary,” he said. “We could all see it. It was a real indicator of how far people had come. We opened up this hospital 12 days after the bombing and 32 of the catastrophically injured received their care right here. We played a very big role with those recoveries here…For all the negative news about the bombings, it gave us a great opportunity to bring to the forefront the importance of rehabilitation medicine and people with disabilities and the challenges they face…It was a pretty remarkable time for us, the patients that were here, and as a result of the hospital being here – a big time for Charlestown.”

Storto grew up in Chicago in a large Italian family, and came to Partners Healthcare in October 1997 to oversee Spaulding and three other hospitals. Though he started out in social work, Storto eventually migrated to rehabilitation medicine, and he said a lot of that had to do with experiences he had with his father. He recalled that his father had a series of strokes in the 1960s and the recovery process from those incidents drew the keen eye of Storto – who wanted to help others through that difficult process.

“It was at a time in the 1960s when there was not a lot of care for rehabilitation and there wasn’t much in the way of medicine to treat strokes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s by coincidence that I ended up in a facility that works with and helps people and their families with disabilities. I think I really try to make up in some respects for what wasn’t available for my father and our family.”

Nowadays, when not at work, Storto said one might catch he and his wife walking their dog – and that’s something that has also endeared them to the community.

“I love how Charlestown is so dog friendly,” he said. “We are dog owners. It’s a great opportunity to get out and meet people in the neighborhood. Everyone here knows your dog, even if they don’t know your name. We’re big dog lovers, and we’ve grown quite fond of Charlestown as well.”

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