George Ehrlich, 85, rheumatologist who advised world group

George E. Ehrlich
George E. Ehrlich
Posted: March 05, 2014

George E. Ehrlich, 85, of Philadelphia, an internationally renowned rheumatologist and adviser to the World Health Organization, died Friday, Feb. 28, of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Arden Courts in King of Prussia.

Dr. Ehrlich made his mark in Philadelphia as the director of rheumatology and chief of the Arthritis Center at Einstein Medical Center and Moss Rehabilitation Hospital from 1964 to 1980.

But his influence went further. An international authority on rehabilitative management of rheumatic conditions, Dr. Ehrlich was trained in the post-World War II era, when the field of rheumatology was focused on discovering the cause of damage to the joints.

At the time, bed rest was the accepted treatment for inflamed joints, because, it was believed, no further damage would occur.

But Dr. Ehrlich took a more proactive view. He was interested in how the chronic joint condition would affect that patient's ability to lead a normal life.

"He said the destruction of the joint is important, but chronic disease destroys dreams, self-image, and the notion of who you are in your space," said Nortin M. Hadler, a fellow rheumatologist. "He started to think about rehabilitation, coping skills, the life course."

When Dr. Ehrlich went to Einstein and Moss, he took the wider approach with him and created one of the first multidisciplinary medical rehabilitation hospitals. Rare then, the approach is common now.

In the second half of his career, Dr. Ehrlich thought even more broadly, considering how the issues of chronic disease are played out in society. He wrote about worker compensation, illness in the workplace, and even the effect of joint illness on a patient's intimate life.

"If you have hip and knee disease, this is not a trivial issue," said Hadler, attending rheumatologist for the University of North Carolina Hospitals.

Dr. Ehrlich wrote widely on many aspects of the field. He edited 12 medical books and authored more than 180 peer-reviewed articles.

He served as editor or on the editorial boards of journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Journal of Rheumatology.In the early 1980s, he served for four years as vice president of development in the Pharmaceuticals Division of Ciba-Geigy Corp. in Summit, N.J., and then rose to head of medical affairs for the pharmaceutical giant at its offices in Basel, Switzerland.

After retiring from Ciba-Geigy in 1988, he remained active as a scientific and medical adviser to many countries.

He served as chairman of the expert advisory panel on Chronic Degenerative Diseases of the World Health Organization, where he led the Low Back Pain Initiative, and served on the executive committee of the International League of Associations of Rheumatology.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Ehrlich came to the United States with his parents aboard the ocean liner Normandie after the occupation and annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938.

He attended Weequahic High School in Newark, N.J., and received his bachelor's degree with honors from Harvard College in 1948, and his medical degree from Chicago Medical School in 1952. He served on a Navy destroyer during the Korean War.

In 1968, Dr. Ehrlich married Gail S. Abrams. The two settled in Center City.

Besides his wife, he is survived by sons Charles Edward and Steven L. Abrams; a daughter, Rebecca Abrams Sayles; a brother; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at Congregation Mikveh Israel, 44 N. Fourth St. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the Philadelphia Orchestra via


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