Like The Old Pgh If Giuffre Closes, The Poor Lose, Too

Posted: April 03, 1988

There was a time in Philadelphia when neighborhood doctors were as commonplace as the corner saloon. They practiced out of rowhouses and they cared for the poor with a charity and an empathy that is almost nonexistent today.

If a rowhouse dweller felt ill, he went to see "The Healer," and when the visit was over he asked what he owed and the doctor took what the patient could afford.

It was a one-on-one relationship between two neighbors, rooted in the old parochial life that was once the great strength of urban America.

But times and values have changed. The old neighborhood doctor is a tragic casualty of the New Culture. Finding a neighborhood doctor is, today, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, often impossible.

There's little personal relationship in medicine anymore. Today health care is a big, big business, fueled by excessive government spending that attracts armies of lawyers, speculators and fast-buck operators who work the fringes, motivated by a lustful greed.

The old neighborhood doctor is a thing of the past, a victim of crime, inflation, changing social and moral mores, malpractice suits, mind-boggling malpractice insurance premiums, a big-spending government and, of course, the New Special Interests who have moved in on the health care field like bloodsuckers.

Few modern doctors can afford to care for the poor in changing urban neighborhoods where health care is needed now more than ever.

One doctor who remained to do the Lord's work in North Philadelphia has been in the news of late - Dr. Jimmy Giuffre, and his troubled James C. Giuffre Medical Center, an oasis in the middle of a poor community burdened with all the problems and poverty and ignorance can produce.

The Giuffre center has been the subject of untold media stories - most of them prompted by anonymous letters from disgruntled employees - charging assorted shortcomings and wrongdoings, many of them bordering on possible

criminal acts.

And Dr. Giuffre is caught in the eye of the storm.

It is not my intention to judge the doctor and his staff, nor to question the motives of the writers of the anonymous letters, or comment on the whispers that certain special interests have hatched the plot.

My juices are stirred by the human side of the flap - the 49 years Dr. Jimmy Giuffre has devoted to the hospital at Eighth and Girard.

The budding scandal is a sad final chapter for a man who has devoted a lifetime to caring for the health needs of poor people.

He came to old St. Luke's and Children's Hospital, renamed in his honor in the 1970s, back in 1939, fresh out of Hahnemann Medical School, and he never left, ultimately running the hospital almost by himself.

He expanded old St. Luke's from an antiquated, one-building facility to a modern urban medical center that he calls "the new PGH."

The old Philadelphia General Hospital was a city-operated institution that provided medical care for the poor. It was closed in 1977 with the approval of the Philadelphia establishment - political, medical and business.

Calling his hospital "the new PGH" is a fair description by Dr. Jimmy Giuffre. The center cares for thousands of North Philadelphia poor, 90 percent of them poverty stricken.

Last year the center admitted 7,750 patients, most of them on Medicare or Medicaid. Only 4 percent had Blue Cross coverage. The outpatient clinic for

drug addiction treated 10,000 and the alcoholic clinic cared for an additional 5,000.

And hundreds of city prisoners are cared for in a wing of the hospital separated from the general population by iron bars.

Then there's the primary outpatient clinic. It cares for thousands, who, in another time, might have been treated by neighborhood doctors, the sort that hardly practice in North Philadelphia anymore.

"Sounds just like PGH," Dr. Giuffre said, referring to the city-run institution.

Dr. Jim Giuffre is 77 now. His wife died a month ago. He sleeps on a cot in his office at the hospital, as he has for years. His only company is a frisky Yorkshire Terrier he calls "Heinz."

He has been crushed by scandal. "It's all lies," he says of the charges, but he's hesitant to discuss any of them.

"We live in crazy times," he says. "Two years ago I took out a guy's stomach. Now he's suing me for malpractice. He showed his scar on television, but the other day he came back to me to treat him.

"He sues me and then comes back to me to treat him. It's crazy."

It is indeed, but it's all part of the New Culture - the wailing addicts in the drug addiction clinic, the kids selling drugs openly outside the hospital, the prostitute working the fringes of the parking lot.

The whole area cries out for help. For years the Giuffre Medical Center has offered the most hope. And now it's under fire.

You wonder where it will all end.

comments powered by Disqus