Leonard Bachman, former Pennsylvania health secretary, dies at 99

Leonard Bachman, 99, former Philadelphia resident, longtime physician, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, retired U.S. Public Health Service officer, former chief of anesthesiology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, professor of pediatric anesthesiology, volunteer and veteran, died Friday, May 24, of cancer at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Dr. Bachman was an expert in anesthesiology, public health, public service and politics. He lived for time in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., and his influence was felt in medicine and public service wherever he went. “He believed that access to quality health care was a human right,” his family said in a tribute, “and he advocated for policies that would make that a reality for every individual.”

In 1979, he was commissioned into the U.S. Public Health Service, appointed a rear admiral in the noncommissioned officer corps, and was put in charge of hospitals, clinics, medical disaster response teams, environmental and drug addiction initiatives, and other national health programs. He retired in 1994 and later worked as a medical consultant for the U.S. Marshals Service for over ten years.

Dr. Bachman served as Pennsylvania’s energetic and committed secretary of health for Governor Milton Shapp from 1975 to 1979, and faced Legionnaires’ disease, Hurricane Agnes, swine flu, and dozens of health policy controversies. He also created state-funded health care centers and advocated for access to health services and the role of the public in planning and procedures.

New York Times profiled Dr. Bachman in 1976 and Shapp said, “The one thing I am most proud of is establishing health care services in parts of the state where there are no physicians, establishing these community medical centers to provide medical services. He’s a great guy.”

Direct and often critical in his official comments, Dr. Bachman sometimes clashed with other doctors and politicians. He proposed a patients’ bill of rights and supported state taxes on cigarettes and disclosure of doctors’ salaries.

He was frequently quoted in The Inquirer and the Daily News in the 1970s, and as Shapp’s director of health services in 1973, he told The Inquirer, “The nursing home crisis did not happen overnight. It is the result of decades of neglect by society and its governments, including the Commonwealth.”

He was recruited from Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore in 1955 to become CHOP’s chief of anesthesiology and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Before going to Harrisburg in 1972 to serve under Shapp, he helped develop the pediatric intensive care unit at CHOP and created and refined groundbreaking tools and technologies for anesthesiologists.

He also taught at the George Washington University School of Medicine and elsewhere, and received three honorary degrees. He served as president of the Pennsylvania Society of Anesthesiologists and was active in several other professional organizations.

He won the 1990 Abigail Geisinger Medal from the Geisinger Health Foundation, the 2004 Robert M. Smith Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the 2018 Robert M. Smith Award. Lifetime Achievement Award Albert Nelson Marquisand other tributes.

His uncle and father were involved in politics, and Dr. Bachman ran unsuccessfully in 1964 to represent the district of Delaware in the U.S. House of Representatives. Later he was chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Committee and president of the Central Reform Democratic Party of Philadelphia.

“He was always full of enthusiasm in everything he did,” said his son Joseph.

Born May 20, 1925, in Baltimore, Leonard Bachman was an Eagle Scout and wrestling star in high school and college. He also enjoyed swimming, hiking, biking, boating and fishing.

He joined the Naval Officer Training Program and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster during World War II, followed by a medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1949. He served at Navy hospitals in Maryland and Massachusetts and medical centers in Boston before moving to Baltimore and Philadelphia.

He met Sarah Jaffe in Baltimore, and they married in 1950 and had a daughter, Emily, and sons Joseph, Daniel, and Jacob. They lived in Baltimore, Boston, Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. before moving to Maryland. His wife died earlier.

Dr. Bachman and his wife spent time with family and friends at their Camp Bachman cabin in western Maine. He served on boards and committees of his synagogues in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and during the Covid-19 pandemic, he became a beloved medical advisor to friends and neighbors in Maryland.

In college, he was a member of a literary society and often quoted Shakespeare. He told compelling stories about visits to research ships, was a board member of the Society Hill Civic Association, and described himself as a “realistic visionary.”

As his daughter stated, he was “an exceptionally fascinating man, with a wide range of interests and knowledge, willing to learn from everyone and to teach.”

In addition to his children, Dr. Bachman leaves behind seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and other relatives.

The ceremony took place on May 26.

You can make donations on his behalf Rangeley Health and WellnessPO Box 722, Rangeley, Maine 04970; and Congregation Tifereth Israel, 7701 16th St., NW Washington, DC 20012.


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