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UC Berkeley Press Release

Henrik Blum, professor emeritus and leader in field of health policy, dies at 90

– Dr. Henrik L. Blum, professor emeritus of health administration and planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer in health care reform, has died at the age of 90.

Henrik Blum
Henrik Blum

Blum died from cardiac arrhythmia on Jan. 3 at his home in Oakland, Calif., four days after a fall.

Considered the father of health planning, Blum saw the need to impart structure and organization into a health care system that was disjointed, inefficient and, above all, inequitable.

"Until the passage of Medicare and Medicaid legislation in the mid-1960s, the provision of medical services for the poor and elderly was virtually nonexistent," said Richard Bailey, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of health policy and administration and a colleague of Blum's for more than three decades. "Reliance on the charity of local physicians and hospitals was usually demeaning, while the availability of services at public health clinics and hospitals run by counties and municipalities was spotty and notoriously underfunded. The massive infusion of federal funding made everyone aware of critical shortages of physicians, nurses, dentists and other health professionals, as well as facilities in which to provide services."

In this environment, Blum envisioned a comprehensive health system for the United States that actively involved consumer and provider participation in decision-making about the types of health care services to be made available locally, regionally and nationally.

"Dr. Blum was on the cutting edge of new theories about how to help the public and private health sectors work together," said Bailey. "His innovation was getting members of the community involved in decisions that would impact their lives."

Howard Barkan, one of Blum's former graduate students at UC Berkeley, noted that some of Blum's ideas for health care delivery are now taken for granted.

"Dr. Blum made a major conceptual breakthrough in rational planning for healthcare and health services resources, and that is the idea of locating services where they are going to be needed," said Barkan, who is now a biostatistician and research methodologist at Kaiser Permanente. "As obvious as that sounds now, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was radical."

Barkan added that Blum was an inspirational and influential mentor to his students. "Dr. Blum paid direct attention to and spent substantial amounts of time working with his students," said Barkan.

Blum was born Nov. 11, 1915, in San Francisco and was raised on a farm in Napa. Colleagues credit his experiences growing up during the Depression for his sensitivity to individuals underserved by social institutions. It was during these early years when he also developed a lifelong passion for music - he excelled at the piano - as well as for the outdoors.

In 1937, Blum earned his B.S. degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley. It was while he was a student at UC Berkeley that he met his future wife, Marian H. Ehrich, a fellow undergraduate who studied social welfare. They married Christmas Eve in 1939 and remained together until her death on Oct. 21, 2005.

Blum went on to earn his M.D. in 1942 from UC San Francisco and a master's in public health from Harvard University in 1948. Between his advanced degree studies, he worked from 1944-1945 as an assistant physician at Johns Hopkins University, and then from 1946-1947 as a fellow at Stanford University.

From 1950 to 1966, Blum served as health officer for Contra Costa County, where he helped establish numerous public health programs, including vision screening in schools, community mental health and genetic counseling.

While he was a health officer, Blum also served as a lecturer at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health until 1966, when he joined the faculty as a clinical professor. Two years later, he became a professor of community health planning. In 1970, Blum established the school's Program in Planning and Policy, chairing the program until his retirement in 1984.

William Reeves, a late UC Berkeley professor emeritus of epidemiology and a colleague of Blum's for more than 40 years, once described how Blum's experience as a health officer influenced his approach to research and teaching.

"Most local health programs were focused on control of communicable diseases and usually within a fairly rigid administrative framework," wrote Reeves in an introduction to Blum's oral history. "Henrik published on problems that he had dealt with in Contra Costa County, such as diabetes detection, genetic counseling, school lunch programs, mental health, vision screening, safety education and fluoridation of water. In each case, he focused on recognition of the community's needs, its resources and concerns, and whose participation was essential to the resolution of the problem."

Throughout his career, Blum has held teaching appointments at Stanford University's Medical School as well as at UC Berkeley. In 1991, he was called back from retirement to serve as interim chair of the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, a position he held for three years.

He also served as a consultant or member of numerous committees for the National Institutes of Health, American Public Health Association, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Health Organization. He was vice president of the American Public Health Association in 1990.

Blum was equally active in local and state community health development, serving as president of the California Conference of Local Health Officers and the Northern California Public Health Association. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, and helped found and chaired the HEALS Corp., a Bay Area health maintenance organization.

In addition to Blum's numerous research publications, he authored three landmark texts on community health and health planning - "Public Health Administration: A Public Health Viewpoint," "Health Planning" and "Planning for Health."

Among his many awards were the 1985 Sedgwick Memorial Medal, the most prestigious honor of the American Public Health Association; the 1985 Schlesinger Award of the American Health Planning Association; and the 1984 Berkeley Citation, one of the campus's highest honors. He also received a Fulbright Scholarship to Sweden in 1986, and in 1987, he spent a year at West China University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu, China, as a visiting professor.

Blum was very active in the lives and careers of his relatives, said his nieces, for whom he was like a father. He is survived by his nieces, Lynda Brothers of San Mateo and Peggy Brothers Cory of Placerville.

Donations in Blum's memory can be made to the Henrik L. Blum Fund, San Francisco Foundation, 225 Bush St., San Francisco, Calif., 94104-4224.

A campus memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the Bancroft Hotel, 2680 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, Calif.