Barbara W. Cahn

[ Age 64 ] Health care and insurance executive created program to help widows cope with bereavement

January 30, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Barbara W. Cahn, an executive with mental health care insurers who earlier had set up an innovative program to help new widows cope, died of cancer Sunday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Woodbrook resident was 64.

Born Barbara Weissman in Wilkes Barre, Pa., she came to Baltimore to attend Goucher College, where she graduated in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in American studies.

She married attorney Charles Cahn II in 1963, and while raising their three children, she became a Sinai Hospital volunteer and won the 1968 Harry Greenstein Award from Associated Jewish Charities for her work with the charity's young leadership.

While pregnant with her third child, she was a case worker with Baltimore County social services in Turners Station. She was later the recipient of a Ford Foundation fellowship to assist the Baltimore mayor's office in planning social services for the city.

In the mid-1970s, she set up and was director of Sinai's Widowed Persons Service, which helped new widows cope with the loss of a spouse. Women who called for help were matched with trained women who themselves had been widowed for at least 18 months. They discussed their problems anonymously.

In a 1978 article in The Sun, Dr. Cahn said that widows usually don't need a psychiatrist. They needed another widow to reassure them their reactions were normal.

"Every woman goes through the same thing," she told The Sun. "That's one of the interesting things about widowhood. It makes no difference whether you are young, old; black, white; rich, poor; Jewish, Italian."

She then became the director of a University of Maryland geriatric health program and in 1982 became a special assistant to the secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She also worked on issues of mental health and aging.

"She was the kind of person who could do 400 things at the same time and do them all well," said her daughter, Elizabeth Cahn Goodman of Tampa, Fla. "No matter how busy she was, she insisted upon cooking dinner every night and having it on the table at 6:30. She often prepared five nights' meals in advance on Sundays just to make sure they'd be ready."

While working for the state, she helped close its Mount Wilson hospital in Baltimore County, which housed geriatric and mental health patients - and wrote her 1992 dissertation on the experience for her doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

"She was proud that she could be a part of the movement to no longer warehouse people with mental illness but instead provide them with community-based care," her daughter said.

In the 1980s, as a vice president for human resources, she helped in the transition of the University of Maryland Medical System from a state hospital to a private, nonprofit corporation.

In the last decade, she was an executive vice president with Magellan Behavioral Health and Green Spring Health Services. Until last spring, she was vice president of marketing for Schaller Anderson Health Plan, where she worked in sales and marketing of specialized health insurance plans for state Medicaid programs and Medicare recipients.

"She was very smart and creative and could handle many different complexities," said Dr. Henry Harbin, a health care consultant and colleague.

In addition to her enthusiasm for cooking, Dr. Cahn was an accomplished flower arranger.

Services will be held at 9 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

In addition to her daughter and husband, survivors include two sons, David L. Cahn of Baltimore and Charles Cahn III of Suffield, Conn., and six grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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