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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

Ira J. Neher, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Sunday, November 17, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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Ira J. Neher, DO

 In the years following the 1927 legislative action broadening the scope of practice of the osteopathic profession, DOs were finally allowed to practice in the manner in which they had been trained.  Despite the fact that they could now prescribe medication and perform major surgery DOs still faced formidable challenges.  The profession was designated as a cult, and it was considered unethical for MDs to associate professionally with DOs.   Nationwide, county hospitals and charitable hospitals continued to bar DOs from being on staff.  The rationale by the MD dominated credential committees was that osteopathic physicians were not adequately trained.  The solution in other states was the formation of osteopathic hospitals in which DOs could practice and train future osteopathic physicians.  In Oregon the timber-based economy was in the doldrums and practice opportunities for new DOs were few and far between.

Established DOs were also wary of new DOs competing for their patients and the patients were also suspicious of a DO who was prescribing medication and performing major surgery when only a few years before all he could do was “bone cracking.”  Into this difficult climate came an optimistic, energetic, young DO who led the way to a new beginning for the osteopathic profession in the State of Oregon.  

 Ira J. Neher was born in October 11, 1901 in a small farming town in North Dakota. Early on the Nehers moved to Wenatchee, Washington.  Ira and his brother and sister attended school in Wenatchee and it was in high school that Ira met his lifetime sweetheart, Lila.  Little is known about summer jobs for the children but it is known that his brother sustained a serious injury in the apple orchards and was attended by the family osteopathic physician located in Wenatchee.
In 1919 Ira was accepted at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon graduating in 1924.   While attending Willamette he was advised by his brother in law, a student at Los Angeles College of Osteopathic Medicine in Los Angeles, to consider osteopathic medicine.  He applied and was accepted at the Los Angeles College in 1923 and completed his training in 1928.  In 1925 he married Lela.  He related that he had to drive his model T ford from Los Angeles to Wenatchee in time for the December 28 wedding.  Considering the roads and the season it must have been an epic journey!   Following graduation he served a one-year rotating internship at The Sanitarium in Arbuckle, California, then an additional six months of training in surgery and obstetrics at Nugent General Hospital in Centralia, Washington.

In 1930 Dr. Neher came to Portland, Oregon and set up practice with Claude Pengra, DO the only other “hospital trained” DO in the State of Oregon.  Because of his extra training he made an arrangement with Dr. Nicholson who owned Portland General Hospital in the Sellwood area of Portland.  Dr. Neher was permitted to perform surgery and deliver babies at that hospital but was forbidden to sign the birth certificate or progress notes on the patients under his care.   This was a business decision on the part of Dr. Nicholson who needed patients to fill the beds of his proprietary hospital.  Frequently he was brought up before the Board of Medical Examiners for “practicing medicine without a license” pharmacists often refused to fill his prescriptions and school nurses would refuse to accept his signature on student health documents.  “Detail men” of the various drug companies were expressly forbidden to visit his and other DOs offices.  Only one insurance company would cover the doctors and that was Mutual of Omaha.

As the years went by patients became aware of Dr. Neher’s expertise and caring attitude, his wonderful sense of humor and the humble attitude he had toward the practice of osteopathic medicine.  As WW II approached and more and more business was coming to Portland General Dr. Nicholson made it increasingly difficult to continue to practice at that hospital.   By this time several other DOs had located in the Portland area and they were all fed up with the shabby treatment they were receiving at Portland General.   Finally in 1944 Dr. Neher, Leonard Purkey, DO, William Hinds, DO, and Joseph Long, DO decided to incorporate a hospital.  With the help of physicians’ families and friends the old building on 616 NW 18th was soon converted into Portland Osteopathic Hospital.  Under the chairmanship of Mr. Long and the board consisting of the three doctors and Harold Larson, Carey Martin, George McGovern, and A.B. Reynolds, the hospital thrived.  With Dr. Neher as chief of staff and chief of surgery a number of osteopathic specialists were attracted to this thriving enterprise.  Later, as the hospital continued to grow it became evident that a new larger facility was needed.  Again under Dr. Neher’s leadership a new location was found in the Eastmoreland area and the hospital was renamed Eastmoreland General Hospital to emphasize the broad capabilities of the hospital.  From 1944 until the hospital finally closed in 2004 students, interns and later residents in family medicine were trained at this facility.

During these years Lela Neher also played an important role first as nursing supervisor of the Portland Osteopathic Hospital and later as an RN at Eastmoreland Hospital.  The Nehers had two daughters, five grandchildren, and one great grandson. In addition to his many duties at the hospital, Dr. Neher found time to serve on the board of the Oregon Osteopathic Association, including its president in 1955.  In 1956, Dr. Neher became a trustee of the American Osteopathic Association Board of Directors; he served as a member of the Oregon State Board of Health and Hospital Survey and Construction.  In 1967 he received the Distinguished Service from the Oregon Osteopathic Association.   

 His greatest contribution to the osteopathic profession and to the people of the State of Oregon was the leadership he provided in founding the first osteopathic hospital in the State of Oregon and later to the founding of the Forest Grove Community Hospital.  His sense of humor, kindness and perseverance and loyalty to the osteopathic profession are examples to all who follow in his footsteps!

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