A pediatric pillar hangs up stethoscope
When a pillar of a community's health care decides to retire after well over 45 years of practice, concerns about a resulting gap in that health care may arise.
That will not be the case at Woodburn Pediatric Clinic when its founder, Dr. Richard Steinberg, 77, takes a well-deserved leave. The dearth of concern about a gap is due significantly to what Steinberg has done with the clinic since its 1975 inception.
"He's given a lot to the community, and he's instilled that into us," said Judith Caceres, a WPC care provider specializing in care coordination and nutrition. "So, for us, we've worked with him for a lot of years, and yes (Steinberg's vision) will go forward. When you build a good foundation for a house, you can continue to build onto that house. That is what he built here — a good foundation."
Caceres and her cohort, Adelina Torrez, were discussing their experiences at the clinic on June 23 just days before Steinberg's retirement begins. Torrez came to the clinic as a vitally needed interpreter years ago and picked up additional skills and experience along the way.
Both have spent decades at the clinic. They and others were eager to share thoughts and insights about Steinberg's legacy and vision.
"I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Steinberg for 27 years," said Marcy Sterling, a retired clinic RN. "I feel he is the most altruistic man I know. When we worked downtown, we worked long, happy hours. His mantra was 'we work until everyone has been seen.' That meant we stayed until every patient who called or walked in and needed to be seen were seen — he turned no one away.
"I say happy hours because Dr. Steinberg created an atmosphere of joy and caring in the office," she said. "Not only is he extremely wise — the smartest man I know — he genuinely cares for all children and their families. I was beyond lucky to have worked with him."
Path to Woodburn
A native of Long Island, New York, Steinberg attended Harvard University where he studied math "for about two weeks." He realized quickly that his interests were much more geared toward humanity than numbers and equations.
In high school he volunteered to help people battling cerebral palsy, and he was moved by the experience.
"I was working with kids who were my own age and dealing with this overwhelming medical condition," he said. "I just admired their courage."
One summer, several of the patients died, and that proved to be a compelling experience for Steinberg to witness.
At Harvard he ended up focusing more on psychology, and he had strong interests in physical therapy. Ultimately, his studies and career path encompassed his broader interests, and he graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1970, then entered his postgraduate residency in Montreal.
"I went to Montreal because they had more of a hands-on medicine experience up there than the (available U.S. options), and I really wanted that," Steinberg said.
Following his residency, Steinberg set his sights west. A new migrant clinic was developing in Woodburn in 1973, so starting on the ground floor with that appealed to him. He soon recognized the clear demand in the area to provide enhanced medical care for youth, and he founded Woodburn Pediatric Clinic.
"In establishing the Woodburn Pediatric Clinic 47 years ago, Dr. Steinberg was a leader in this community in combating medical inequities across race, age and gender," said Miriam Habafy, a physician's assistant at the clinic. "He was able to improve the health outcomes for all members of the community, not only of Woodburn, but also of the surrounding towns of Mount Angel, Aurora, Donald, Keizer, Gervais, Silverton, Independence and many other areas."
Habafy echoed the experiences related by others; Steinberg demonstrated clearly that patient wellness is the top priority.
"He is a role model for all medical providers," Habafy said. "He maintained an exceptional quality of medical care, compassion and ethics. The patient always came first. He would be the first one in the clinic in the morning and the last one to leave at night.
"He was always willing to share his medical knowledge, and he always kept up with the latest science in his field of ADHD."
Steinberg's interest in the behavioral aspect of health is a longstanding one, dating back at least to his college years. The pediatric physician paid keen attention as recognition, knowledge and understanding about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder increased in recent decades.
His fervor was nurtured at home; A father of six, including four adoptees, Steinberg has raised two children with ADHD challenges. He said raising ADHD children taught him a lot.
"What you learn from the textbooks about it is up here," Steinberg said, pointing to his head. "But what you learn from raising a child is all in here," moving his hand to his heart.
Steinberg stressed that establishing a healthy environment and putting a youngster on the right path is crucial. He said he also discovered some areas, such as imagination and creativity, where ADHD children have advantages over others.
"If you can marshal and direct those (assets), it can lead to wonderful things," he said, emphasizing how attention to mental and emotional qualities is vital to a person's holistic well-being.
That desire to help young patients and their families find the right path has been a part of Woodburn for generations. The clinic currently serves children and grandchildren of patients Steinberg treated decades ago.
"He has dedicated his time to do what is right for patients and to ensure their success. He is passionate and fierce at the same time when it comes to patient care," said Dr. Saritha Seru, a WPC physician and partner. "He recognized the growing need for mental health in pediatrics and started working exclusively in taking care of children with mental health concerns and ADHD for over 10 years now."
Big shoes to fill
During a relaxed chat in his office, Steinberg mentions a relatively new person on the clinic's staff, Caden Middleton, a nurse practitioner with a specialization in psychiatrics and mental health.
"He knows what we do here and how we do it," Steinberg said. "In a lot of ways, he expands what we have here, and he has skills that I don't have."
Middleton and a wide variety of others at the clinic afford Steinberg some ease of mind as he transitions away from WPC. It's a transition that has been in the making for well over a decade.
"I've been very consistent in my perception: Since I was 62 or 63 I was going to retire in two years, and finally that two years is up," Steinberg said. "It's hard to step back and away from something you love."
Steinberg and his wife, Harriet, decided they needed to spend more time together. The veteran physician feels the clinic is well set for the future.
His colleagues say Steinberg ensured that.
"He is an exceptional physician with great compassion (and) a firm believer that in pediatrics we not only treat the children, but we treat families," Seru said. "He has worked tirelessly, with great energy, in taking care of children with warmth and empathy.
"His vision and mission for Woodburn Pediatrics is to provide excellent medical care to the underserved population of Woodburn and surrounding communities," she added. "Under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Steinberg, the clinic is currently taking care of generations of patients, which speaks volumes to the excellent care and nurturing environment it provides to the community."
That will continue.
"He has successfully instilled the culture and philosophy into the staff at WPC, that the needs of patients should be met every single time any patient walks through our doors," Seru said.
As they witness Steinberg's retirement, his contemporaries say they would like to see American medicine groom more medical practitioners like him.
"His caring and compassion are well above what is expected of most doctors," Habafy said. "He is the doctor who is in it for the right reason and cares so much for his patients. It will make it difficult to carry on his legacy."
What: Retirement party for Dr. Richard Steinberg
When: 12:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 10
Where: Woodburn Pediatric Clinic parking lot, 2050 Progress Way, Woodburn
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