Rural medicine leader Roger Rosenblatt remembered

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Rural medicine leader Roger Rosenblatt remembered

Confronting physician shortages and service gaps, Rosenblatt sought to improve the region’s healthcare landscape
Bobbi Nodell

When people talk about legends at the University of Washington, Roger Rosenblatt is one of them.

After graduation from Harvard Medical School, Rosenblatt moved to Seattle where he became one the first University of Washington family medicine residents. Finishing his residency in 1974, he joined the U.S. Public Health Service to help launch the National Health Service Corps.

His experiences sparked his lifelong commitment to providing care to rural and underserved areas. He parlayed his passion for helping vulnerable populations through formation of the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) Rural Health Research Center and the Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program for medical students.

“He was the heart and soul of this department,” said Tom Norris, professor and chair of family medicine.

Rosenblatt died from cancer Dec. 12 at the age of 69.

He was professor and vice chair of family medicine, and adjunct professor of health services and global health. He also held an adjunct faculty post in the UW College of Forest Resources. In 1987, Rosenblatt became one of the first family medicine physicians elected as a member of the  Institute of Medicine, part of the United States National Academies. The Institute’s mission is to advise the nation on health issues.

Norris saw Rosenblatt three days before his death. Rosenblatt told him he was thankful he could continue teaching and doing his research throughout his illness. Rosenblatt was working 60 percent time.

As co-investigator of the WWAMI Rural Health Research Center, Rosenblatt directed several projects. His primary interest was using research as a tool to improve the delivery of health services to vulnerable populations. For example, he was involved in a study of the management of chronic pain and opiate addiction in rural practices. He was also passionate about the linkage between a healthy environment and the health of rural populations. While working full-time, he received a master’s in forestry and was a big proponent of sustainable and healthy communities.

Due in part to Rosenblatt’s influence, in the early 1970s UW started sending medical students to rural Okanogan in Eastern Washington, where the Rosenblatts had a small acreage. Norris said Rosenblatt supported health-care in that part of the state  and worked to educate high school students on the issues he cared about.

Rosenblatt also made a big impression on a past chair of the board of Dow Chemical Company. Rosenblatt met the former chemical executive Robert W. Lundeen when he and his late wife, Betty, were assisting a local medical practice on Orcas Island.

“I learned then of Roger’s keen interest in providing medical care in rural, isolated communities, so we were kindred spirits from that moment on,” Lundeen said in an earlier interview.

Lundeen was a major donor to the Rosenblatt Endowed Professorship in Rural Health. The Rosenblatts, Lundeen, and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians provided the majority of the $500,000 needed for an endowed professorship, with the rest was raised from faculty and friends, said Norris. The endowment was established to enhance the Department of Family Medicine’s ability to recruit and retain distinguished faculty with experience in providing rural healthcare and to foster research to improve care delivery to rural areas worldwide.

Rosenblatt helped recruit the first recipient, David Evans. Evans practiced medicine for 15 years in Eastern Oregon.

Rosenblatt had an exceptionally warm, friendly, energetic manner and a ready, appreciative laugh. He enjoyed conversation and had deep respect for his patients and his co-workers in all fields.  

Rosenblatt will be missed by all those whose lives he touched and most especially by his wife Fernne; sons Jon, Garth, Eli and Ben; their wives Linda, Jenny, Kelly and Olivia; and grandchildren Taylor, Ezra and Lucy.

A UW memorial celebration of Roger Rosenblatt’s life will be held  at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan.14, in the Foege Auditorium, located in the south side of the UW Foege Building.
Rosenblatt also will be remembered during a walk starting at 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 15, in the Union Bay Nature Area near the UW campus. The walk will be followed by a sharing of memories at the Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41 St., Seattle.

Donations in Rosenblatt’s honor can be made to the Rosenblatt Family Endowed Professorship in Rural Family Medicine at the University of Washington , UW Medicine Advancement, Box 358045, Seattle, WA 98195 or in support of the Okanogan Land Trust,  P.O. Box 293, Tonasket, WA 98855.