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Dr. William Reichel, an internist and practitioner of family medicine who had a special interest in geriatrics, dies

Dr. William Reichel was the author of a standard textbook on the care of the elderly.
Dr. William Reichel was the author of a standard textbook on the care of the elderly.

Dr. William Reichel, a pioneering physician in geriatrics and family medicine who maintained a deep interest in medical ethics, died May 14 of complications of a stroke at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Timonium resident was 83.

“He was one of the storied leaders in geriatric medicine who saw the handwriting on the wall decades ago of an aging America, and he pointed his work and research in that direction,” said Dr. Samuel C. Durso, director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. “He was a giant in the field.”

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“He was the founder of the family medical practice at what is now MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and was the founding chairman of the Department of Family Medicine,” said Dr. J. Michael Niehoff, director of musculoskeletal programs in the Department of Family Medicine at Franklin Square and an assistant professor of clinical family medicine at Georgetown University.

“He was one of the leaders and founders of geriatric medicine,” Dr. Niehoff said. “He was an outstanding physician and taught hundreds of residents in family medicine. He was really a great example of a physician, author and editor who was devoted to his patients. He will truly be missed.”

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William Reichel, son of Abraham Reichel, an attorney, and his wife, Tessie Reichel, a homemaker, was born and raised in New York City, where he graduated from the Bronx High School of Science.

He was a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia College in New York City, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1957, and four years later graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons with a degree in medicine,.

In 1962, Dr. Reichel completed an internship at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, Mary Fletcher Hospital, in Burlington. From 1962 to 1965, he completed a residency in internal medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where he was an assistant resident from 1962 to 1963 and chief resident from 1963 to 1965.

From 1965 to 1966, he was chief resident in medicine in the Unit for Research in Aging at thr Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and from 1966 to 1968 he was a surgeon with the U.S. Public Health Service, in which he attained the rank of lieutenant commander. While with the public health service, he also was an internist and research investigator for the Gerontology Research Center at the National Institutes of Health and at the old Baltimore City Hospitals.

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In 1972, Dr. Thomas Crawford, director of medical education, recruited Dr. Reichel to establish a family medicine residency at what is now Franklin Square Medical Center, where he was also director of outpatient services and director of family medicine and human development.

During this time, as a member of the board of directors of the American Geriatrics Society, he was appointed to lead a delegation of members to the International Congress of Gerontology in what was then the U.S.S.R. to discuss premature aging.

After a serious and deadly outbreak of an epidemic in a Baltimore nursing home in 1973, Dr. Reichel, representing the AGS, served on the task force and commission that investigated the incident. He testified to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which resulted in requirements that skilled nursing facilities have a medical director, which were passed in 1974.

From 1971 to 1984 while serving on the AGS board and as president 1979 to 1980, and chairman of the board, 1980 to 1982, he conducted 21 continuing medical education courses at not only Franklin Square, but also the Georgetown University School of Medicine and AGS.

In 1978 and 1983, he published the first and second editions of “Care of the Elderly: Clinical Aspects of Aging” and edited the text for “The Geriatric Patient.” He also co-edited the “Handbook of Geriatric Assessment” while serving on the Governor’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders from 1984 to 1985, the year the task force published its report on the state of Alzheimer’s disease in Maryland, and predicted that during the next 15 years an estimated 20,000 Marylanders over the age of 65 would be afflicted with dementia.

Dr. Reichel was also an expert on progeria, which is premature aging “on a breathtakingly accelerated scale — a strange biological disorder,” according to a 1974 article in the old Sunday Sun Magazine. “There is no known cause of it, there is no cure and death is inevitable, usually by the midteens, or sooner, usually from heart trouble.”

Dr. Reichel was chairman of Franklin Square’s Department of Family Practice from 1972 to 1988 and from 1989 to 1995 was director of the Department of Geriatrics and Aging Services at the Boston Evening Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

He also was a clinical professor of community health in the division of family medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston from 1989 to1995 and a clinical professor of family medicine and community health from 1995 to 1998 at Tufts.

Dr. Reichel was an adjunct professor of family medicine at the Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1990 to 2000.

“He was a very detailed-oriented person who kept track of everything and kept in touch with people,” Dr. Niehoff said. “He was a great friend and mentor.”

Dr. Niehoff was co-editor with Dr. Reichel of the soon-to-be-published eighth edition of “Reichel’s Care of the Elderly.” Dr. Reichel was also the author of numerous articles and books related to geriatrics and two to bioethics.

“He was interested in medical ethics and the ethical care of the elderly and would say, ‘Let us not lose our sense of humanity,’ ’' Dr. Durso said.

Dr. Reichel was semiretired at his death.

He enjoyed reading and spending time with his family.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

Dr. Reichel is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Helen Mary Zoelle, a microbiologist; a son, Robert L. Reicher of Radnor-Winston; a daughter, Andrea H. Reichel Ruggeri of Towson; and five grandchildren.

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