150 Years: Making an Impact for the ‘Good of their Cause’

Taken from the 150th Anniversary issue of the Physicians Bulletin (2016)

“When a small group of physicians organize for the good of their cause, they can make an impact on their community. This was true with the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society.”
Mary Seeley penned these words as she chronicled the history of the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society – the precursor to the Metro Omaha Medical Society.
In 2016, as MOMS celebrated its 150th anniversary, its members looked back and paid homage to the physicians who stepped up to form Omaha’s medical society.
Realizing the need to establish regulation for medical practice, Omaha physicians met on June 14, 1866, and formed the Omaha Medical Society.  The founding members included Dr. Augustus Roeder, Dr. I.N. Rippey, Dr. James H. Peabody, Dr. C.H. Pinney, Dr. R.C. Moore, Dr. Samuel D. Mercer, Dr. L.F. Babcock, Dr. J.R. Conkling, Dr. James P. Peck, Dr. William McClelland, Dr. E.H. Den, Dr. Enos Lowe, and Dr. G.C. Monell. The first officers were chosen Nov. 12, 1866: President, Dr. Peck; vice-president, Dr. Roeder; secretary, Dr. Rippey; and treasurer, Dr. Peabody.  According to “History of the City of Omaha Nebraska and South Omaha” by James W. Savage, John T. Bell and Consul W. Butterfield, the following preamble and resolution was adopted:
“WHEREAS, the regular practitioners of medicine in the City of Omaha, Nebraska, feel the importance of some organization for the advancement and promotion of medical science, as well as for the mutual protection and welfare of its members; be it
Resolved, that we the undersigned, do agree to form among ourselves (and the regular practitioners of medicine who may from time to time be admitted) an association to be known as the Omaha Medical Society, of Omaha.”
On Aug. 1 of that year, members drafted a constitution and formed four permanent committees: Library, Intelligence, Meteorology and Diseases. The focus of the Meteorology committee was to explore any connections between barometric variations and rainfall and disease. The Smithsonian Institute promised to send a rain gauge, which never was received.
A month later the society would adopt a comprehensive fee bill, which sought to bind the profession together and, as one member stated, “really established the basis for pay in those days, and was accepted by both regular and irregular physicians.” Seeley’s thesis didn’t define irregular physicians.  This fee bill would be revised again in 1871.

Among its activities during its first 15 years were:

  • An attempt to secure the boy of a man sentenced to death to examine the corpse for the effects of the hanging. A Catholic priest objected on behalf of the deceased.
  • Its support of a petition by the Nebraska State Medical Association, which called for a state board of health.
  • A committee was appointed to confer with the city council and a law was passed requiring the maintenance of vital statistics.

As time passed, the Omaha Medical Society membership declined and “personal animosities” led to declining participation at meetings with the last meeting reaching a quorum held in July 1881. Attempts to revive the organization floundered and two rival societies formed – the Omaha Academy of Medicine and the Omaha Medical Club.

The desire to reorganize a medical fraternity led to a meeting on April 18, 1883, where the Douglas County Medical Society was organized. Officers elected in 1883 were:  President, Dr. H. Link; First Vice-President, Dr. J.M. Swetman; Second Vice-President, Dr. James Peabody; Secretary, Dr. James Carter; and Treasurer, Dr. L. B. Graddy.  After four years, it was again plagued with declining attendance and held its last meeting on March 1, 1887.

“Throughout the early history of Omaha, several medical societies appeared and then faded away due to a lack of cooperation and personal jealousies of its members,” Seeley wrote.

On March 18, 1890, a meeting was held with about 40 physicians present who, having learned from experiences in the past, agreed to set aside differences for the good of the profession, and the new and improved “Omaha Medical Society” was organized and would remain continually active to present day.

The new Omaha Medical Society’s first goal was perfecting a good organization. Officers elected included: President, Dr. W.F. Milroy; First Vice President, Dr. Crummer; Second Vice President, Dr. A.F. Jonas; Secretary, Dr. Charles Rosewater; and Treasurer, Dr. S.K. Spaulding. A three-member Board of Censors was also formed to vet the credentials of applicants for membership.

The organization’s early years were focused on its fundamentals, medical legislation and problems affecting health. In 1897, for example, the first meeting of the year was devoted to a discussion of the inefficient handling of insane people in the city jail. During its April meeting, Dr. J.P. Lord introduced a motion that smoking should be abolished at meetings. Two years later, J.E. Summers proposed that any member faced with an alleged malpractice suit notify the society.

  • Among its activities during the following decades were:
  • Employing a legal representative to prosecute irregular practitioners.
  • Supported proper government inspection of meat processed in South Omaha.
  • Calling for the closing of the Burt Street pumping station, which was regarded as a menace to Omaha’s typhoid fever problem.
  • In 1925, the society initiated a public health education campaign that covered such topics of obesity and diet, X-rays and prenatal care.
  • One year later, the society launched a militant health campaign, and invited the Chamber of Commerce and various civic clubs to discuss problems pertinent to health.

On June 7, 1926, a special meeting of the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society was held. Representatives from luncheon clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Taxpayers Research Council, social workers and all interested guests were invited to consider the needs of the county hospital. That night the medical society went on record as adopting a plan for separation of the hospital and poor farm, and for the construction of a modern six-unit hospital.

Physicians were being sent to every noon and evening meeting possible to “tell the world just how little Douglas County . . . (seemed) to think of its sick and afflicted.” Soon various pledges of aid were coming to the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society in support of its fight for the new hospital. On Nov. 6, citizens approved the bonds for the two new wings for Douglas County Hospital. It was a “red-letter” day indeed for the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society. Regarding the victory, Secretary-Treasurer Dr. Earl Sage said, “It showed that the medical profession could instigate and sponsor a civic movement and carry it through to successful completion. Many physicians were involved in the project and credit should be given to them.

In 1927, a group of physician spouses began organizing for the purpose of socializing and interacting with others who had similar concerns unique to medical families. This group evolved over the years into a formidable volunteer organization focused on community health concerns and became the Metro Omaha Medical Society Alliance (MOMSA). Beginning in 1983, MOMSA began hosting an annual Kitchen Tour to fund its health-related activities raising well over $125,000. For more than 85 years, the group advocated for public health before declining membership led its dissolution in 2013.

With the Great Depression of the early 1930s, the society’s attention turned to medical economics. For example, a proposal to the society in 1932 called for budget medical services to be applied to families whose annual income was under $2,700. Needed medical or surgical treatment would be paid at the rate of 3 percent of the family income. The proposal was rejected.

Years later, the society tackled the issue of improper pasteurization of milk. A new code increased the classification from three to six grades of milk. The next step was to conduct an advertising campaign to explain the high standards of production for certified milk. In thanking the society for its support and assistance in securing passage of the Milk Control Act, the city health commission described the accomplishment as the “greatest step forward in public health in this vicinity in the past twenty-five years.”

As the United States faced world war, the society called for the appointment of a civilian defense committee to devise a plan of action for coordinating hospital, personnel and facilities for the need for care that could arise because of war. For convenience in dispatching medical care, the city was divided into eight zones, which each zone included one or more hospitals.

In 1949, the society achieved a 25-year goal with the passage of legislation that consolidated the city and county health departments. Five years later, the society aired “Your Doctor and You” television program that featured 13 episodes. Topics included growing old, childhood diseases and first aid. In 1955, the society, along with the Junior Chamber of Commerce, sponsored the first Health Fair in Omaha. Two years later, the society conducted an extensive education program, called “Operation Knockout,” which called for all people under 50 to be inoculated against polio.

Seeley’s thesis notes that the society recognized Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the live-virus oral polio vaccine, with a plaque of appreciation during his visit to Omaha in 1962. Issues of note in the 1960s were food sanitation, the aged and substandard housing.

Name changes would occur during the 1970s. In 1976, the Omaha-Douglas County Medical Society changed its name to the Greater Omaha Medical Society, which became the Metropolitan Omaha Medical Society in 1979. Three years later, MOMS merged with the Sarpy County Medical Society.

Among its accomplishments and notable impacts on medicine and the community health in the next several decades were:

  • 1976: passage of the Nebraska Hospital-Medical Liability Act, a comprehensive bill that defined the liability of hospitals and physicians in Nebraska (See Dr. Zetterman’s account on page XX).
  • 1981: The Metro Omaha Medical Society Foundation was formed in 1981 when Dr. Charles Bressman was president of the Metro Omaha Medical Society. After Dr. Bressman’s death in 1994, the Foundation received a gift of $5,000 from the Bressman Family to help fund the community goals of this program. Since then, physicians have had the opportunity to donate to the Foundation along with their dues. Foundation funds have grown over the years because of the generous support of Metro Omaha Medical Society members. In 2002, the Foundation began awarding community grants to various organizations in the Metro Omaha area. To date the Foundation has presented over a quarter million dollars in grants.
  • 1991:  John Sage, M.D., with Executive Director Sandy Johnson led the effort to establish the Nebraska Credentials Verification Organization (NCVO), which centralized credentialing in the Metro Omaha area.
  • 1992: MOMS implemented its first Community Internship Program with goals of demonstrating the priority status of the patient-physicians relationship, as well as both the physician concern of containing health-care costs and commitment to quality care. In addition, the program, which provides interns opportunities to shadow physicians in a variety of practice environments, was designed to open lines of communication with community leaders whose decisions impact the practice of medicine and health of the community.  To date there have been nearly 160 community leaders, lawmakers, media and business leaders who have participated in the Community Internship program which is held each fall.
  • 1993: Project Hope/Hope Medical Outreach Coalition, was the culmination of organizations responding to the need for free medical care to the homeless.  The Metro Omaha Medical Society and a number of area agencies began collaborating to better serve those in need. MOMS served as the pipeline for recruiting volunteer physicians. In April 1997, Hope Medical Outreach Coalition became a new not-for-profit corporation affiliated with the MOMS. MOMS leadership began to assist in obtaining donated support for surgeries from area hospitals and continued to be a driving force behind volunteer recruitment.  Annually, HMOC cares for more than 1,500 patients, provides more than 3000 referrals to specialists, facilitates more than 350 surgeries, and sees more than seven million dollars donated in healthcare procedures.
  • 1996:  The Medical MESS Club made its debut providing the medical community an evening of satirical, comedic entertainment as local physicians performed popular songs re-written to poke fun at the hot topics in health care at the time.  This event, now held every other year, raises funds for the MOMS Foundation.
  • 2006: MOMS’ involvement in the Smoke-Free Omaha Campaign, an effort led by Drs. Deb Esser, David Filipi, Reed Peters, Linda Ford and Diana Doyle, led to city councilman Franklin Thompson introducing the “Prohibition on Smoking in Workplaces and Public Gathering Places” ordinance, which passed.  Passage of this ordinance and a similar one in Lincoln contributed to the Nebraska Legislature’s smoke-free legislation in 2009 and 2014.
  • 2009:  In an effort to provide mentoring to local medical students, MOMS initiated its “Speed Dating for Your Specialty” annual event, which continues each fall. This event allows students to visit face-to-face with MOMS member physicians, rotating every few minutes, to discuss their specific fields of medicine and the related challenges and opportunities.  Students gain valuable insight to guide them as they choose their path.
  • 2017:  To combat increasing stress and reported burnout, the MOMS launched www.providerwellness.com an online tool for practitioners to utilize a confidential assessment to determine how well they are managing stress and connect them with a variety of resources.