Health + Behavior

Milton I. Roemer, Pioneering UCLA Health Services Professor, Dies


Dr. Milton I. Roemer, a pioneering health services researcher, teacher and professional whose prescience of industry trends and possibilities led to his significant contributions to health policy in the United States and abroad, has died.

Roemer, a professor emeritus of the UCLA School of Public Health's Department of Health Services, died Jan. 3 of heart failure after a brief illness. He was 84.

Roemer's many notable achievements include studies showing that in an insured population, a hospital bed built is a bed filled — a finding that contributed to enactment of certificate of need legislation and comprehensive health planning. This finding was so robust that it bears his name: Roemer's Law.

His research at UCLA encouraged the development of HMOs, promoted the use of ambulatory care and documented the need for national health insurance covering the total population. He advocated development of doctoral training in health administration to prepare students for leadership in public health practice, and established an endowed fellowship to support students in this program.

In addition to his 38 years as a distinguished teacher and researcher at UCLA, Roemer served at all levels of health administration — county, state, national and international. During his 60-year career he worked in 71 countries and published 32 books and 430 articles on the social aspects of health services.

"Dr. Roemer was a world-renowned scholar in many areas of public health, including international health, primary care, rural health and health-care organization," said Ron Anderson, chair of the UCLA School of Public Health's Department of Health Services. "He and his wife, Professor Ruth Roemer, have been bastions in the UCLA School of Public Health, advocates and committed teachers of our students, and gracious hosts not only to the UCLA community but literally to the entire world of public health."

Dr. Linda Rosenstock, the new School of Public Health dean, echoed Anderson's assessment of Roemer's distinguished career. "One of the excitements of coming to UCLA was the opportunity to collaborate with the Roemers, whose work I had admired for many years," she said.

Roemer earned his M.D. from New York University in 1940, along with a master's in sociology from Cornell University, and a bachelor's in public health from the University of Michigan.

As a medical officer of the New Jersey State Health Department, he supervised 92 venereal disease clinics, as they were called in 1943. During World War II, as a member of the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, he served as assistant to the chief medical officer of the War Food Administration and associate in medical care administration to the chief of the State Relations Division. His 1948 book, written with F.D. Mott, "Rural Health and Medical Care," was the first to analyze systematically rural health-care needs and services in the United States.

As county health officer of Monongalia County, W.Va., he introduced public health innovations, including pioneering a cancer detection clinic for this mining community, against the objections of organized medicine. Roemer explained to the doctors that this screening clinic would provide more patients for them to treat.

This experience led him later to establish a prize for a creative local public-health leader who had overcome opposition to advances in public health. He was among the first to advocate integration of public health and medical care, and launched the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association.

Roemer's international work began in 1951, when he served as chief of the Social and Occupational Health Section of the newly formed World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1953, in the midst of the McCarthy hysteria, he was forced to leave Switzerland and his work as an international civil servant when the U.S. government withdrew approval of his appointment at WHO.

In 1953 the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, had just introduced hospital insurance in this prairie province and was on the verge of extending it to include insurance for doctors' care. Roemer was appointed Director of Medical and Hospital Services of the Saskatchewan Department of Public Health, North America's first social insurance program for hospital care.

After teaching at Yale and Cornell universities, Roemer came to the UCLA School of Public Health in 1962, teaching health administration, conducting research and writing for 38 years, and serving as chairman of the Department of Health Services for eight years.

The capstone of Roemer's many publications was his two-volume work, "National Health Systems of the World," a monumental comparative analysis of national health systems of countries of the world.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) awarded Roemer its International Award for Excellence in Promoting and Protecting the Health of People in 1977. In 1983 APHA awarded him its highest honor — the Sedgwick Memorial Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health.

In 1992 the Centers for Disease Control gave Roemer its Joseph W. Mountain Award. In 1997 he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award of the APHA International Health Section and the Distinguished Career Award of the Association for Health Services Research.

Roemer is survived by his wife of 61 years, Ruth Roemer; his son, John E. Roemer, of New York City; his daughter, Beth Roemer Lewis, of Berkeley, Calif.; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at UCLA in the spring. Contributions in Milton Roemer's memory may be made to the American Public Health Association, Washington, D.C.; the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health; or Physicians for Social Responsibility.



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