Dr. Frank Folke Furstenberg, 92, allergist, founder of Pets on Wheels

August 11, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Frank Folke Furstenberg, a retired allergist and Sinai Hospital official and founder of Pets on Wheels Inc., died of Parkinson's disease Tuesday at his Guilford residence. He was 92.

Dr. Furstenberg went to work for Sinai Hospital in 1946 as director of the medical care clinic, which served public assistance clients, and retired in 1984 after holding positions including director of the outpatient department and associate director for program development.

He also closed his private practice in 1984.

Dr. Furstenberg established Sinai's Aging Center in the early 1950s and, in 1961, helped begin its home care program for patients who did not require hospitalization.

"His passion for decent medical care was what really engaged him," said a son, Mark Furstenberg of Washington.

"All of these projects were to help develop care for people who didn't have any money, the old and the poor."

Dr. Furstenberg, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden, immigrated with his family to Waltham, Mass., in 1910. They later moved to Indianapolis, where he graduated from high school.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Butler University and a medical degree from Indiana University. He came to Baltimore as an intern at Sinai Hospital in 1932.

In 1934, he became medical director of the Transient Bureau of the Federal Emergency Relief Agency, whose mission was to provide care for homeless men and migratory workers during the Depression.

During World War II, Dr. Furstenberg served with the U.S. Public Health Service and returned to Baltimore and private practice in 1946.

Later that year, he rejoined Sinai.

Because of his experience working with the needy during the Depression, Dr. Furstenberg recognized the need for national health insurance as far back as the early 1940s.

In 1947, as a member of the executive committee of Nation's Health, he unsuccessfully lobbied for passage of a national health insurance bill.

"Isn't it amazing and ironical that 50 years later that we're still debating a national health policy?" asked Mark Furstenberg.

Dr. Furstenberg was a consultant to the U.S. Commissioner of Welfare, helping to develop goals and guidelines for Medicare.

Perhaps one of his most noted achievements was the founding of Pets on Wheels in 1982. It grew out of a program he created to measure the effectiveness of pet therapy on shut-ins and nursing home patients.

Dr. Furstenberg noted that the stimulation of playing with animals benefited the patients by getting them back to a high quality of behavior.

Today, the charity, which has grown to 1,100 volunteers and pets, continues to "talk, bark and meow its way into the lives of thousands of lonely Maryland nursing home patients," The Sun reported last year.

Outspoken, fearless and determined, Dr. Furstenberg challenged the status quo and led the battle in the early 1950s to open professional medical societies to black physicians.

He was a member of the Urban League, Americans for Democratic Action, the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the American Veterans Committee.

During the 1970s, he was vice chairman of the Baltimore City Commission on Aging and was president of the Visiting Nurses Association.

Said Walter Sondheim, Baltimore community leader and activist: "He had a strong concern for people as human beings, and this certainly translated into all of his life's activities."

Ann Gordon, a Baltimore resident and longtime friend, said, "He had a huge appetite for life and giving."

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Johns Hopkins Club on the Homewood Campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Edith Hollander; another son, Michael Furstenberg of Newton, Mass.; three daughters, Carla Cohen of Washington, and Ellen Furstenberg and Anne Furstenberg, both of Philadelphia; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 08/11/97

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