Geriatrician joins national discussion on health care reform

SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 18, 2009) — A San Antonio geriatrician who, in a recently published book, recounted his personal struggle with his father’s disability and dementia will join the national discussion on health care reform Thursday, Aug. 20, when he will speak on end-of-life issues at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Jerald Winakur, M.D., author of “Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story,” will take part in “Key Issues in Health Reform: Fact vs. Fiction,” a press briefing organized by the Health Affairs policy journal. Dr. Winakur is a clinical professor of medicine and associate faculty member in the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Others slated to speak include former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association; Len Nichols, a health care economist with the New American Foundation think tank; and Gail R. Wilensky, Ph.D., an economist and senior fellow at the nonprofit Project HOPE.

The press briefing will consist of three panel discussions. In addition to end-of-life health care, there also will be panels on the U.S. government’s role in health care and the implications of slowing the rate of growth in Medicare spending.

Dr. Winakur will describe coping with Alzheimer’s disease in his own father and talk about end-of-life care from a practicing geriatrician’s viewpoint.

“End-of-life issues – the subtext there is that someone, at some point, has to have a difficult conversation with patients and families,” Dr. Winakur said. “It takes a lot of practice to do end-of-life care well. And by that, I don’t mean just pain management. I mean dealing with all of the complicated issues that occur, from helping patients decide what they should or shouldn’t do to being there for them in a meaningful way, standing by their side and being their advocate.”

Joining him on the panel will be Christine Cassel, M.D., president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and Diane E. Meier, M.D., director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant.

The panelists also will talk about advance directives, palliative care and the need for more geriatricians and primary care doctors.

The briefing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. EDT, with Dr. Winakur’s panel starting at 11 a.m.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 25,600 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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