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Susquehanna Life

Dr. Bill Jeffreys Retires After 58 Years as Geisinger Neurologist

Jan 28, 2015 11:06AM ● By Erica Shames

The start of the New Year truly brought a new life for Bill Jeffreys, M.D., 89, who no longer goes to work at Geisinger Medical Center (GMC) for the first time in more than 58 years. A neurologist who started at George F. Geisinger Memorial Hospital on July 1, 1956, Dr. Jeffreys retired on New Year’s Day.

He leaves behind a legacy that included starting the hospital’s neurology program in 1961 and founding the Geisinger Neuroscience Center in 1984 – now the Geisinger Neurosciences Institute. Through the institute, neurology and neurosurgery experts collaborate with specialists from other disciplines to treat the most complex neurological disorders, diseases and injuries.

According to Donald Housley’s 2012 book “Make It the Best: A History of Geisinger Health System, 1912-2001,” Dr. Jeffreys had to overcome several basic problems to establish the Neuroscience Center – one being the natural growth in the neurosciences – when the center was planned in the early 1980s.

“I think we did reasonably well meshing the goals of neurology and neurosurgery,” Dr. Jeffreys said. “But with that growth, you have more super subspecialties – so spine surgeons, peripheral nerve surgeons, brain surgeons, spinal cord specialists, etc. There’s so much to know that you can’t know it all. So the first phase of forming an institute is admitting that people know more than you know about a subspecialty and then going to them to get properly trained people.”

Dr. Jeffreys did just that. The Neuroscience Center was approved by the Governance Committee at GMC on March 5, 1984, and he became its first director.

While he may not be the ultimate expert on every neuroscience subspecialty, few can match his historical knowledge of Geisinger’s clinical care.

Dr. Jeffreys was one of just 25 physicians at the George F. Geisinger Memorial Hospital when he started back in 1956. But while the hospital was much smaller back then, he says it still operated under several of the same core values found in the Geisinger Health System (GHS) today.

“It was well-managed by Dr. [Harold] Foss,” Dr. Jeffreys said. “It took good care of patients and was fiscally responsible.”

“I think the major thing was Dr. Foss’s training and the emphasis on patient care,” he added.

Dr. Jeffreys provided care to both Dr. Foss, who guided the hospital through its first 43 years, and Dr. Leonard Bush, who became the hospital’s executive director from 1958 through 1974.

While he acknowledges that growth has been the most obvious change in the Geisinger system during his time there, he believes it’s never lost the focus on patient care.

“It’s gone from a little family business to a great big corporation with all the things that that implies,” he said. “But I think efforts by people like Dr. Victor Marks (dermatologic surgery, acting CEO 2000-01), Dr. Greg Burke (associate, Department of General Internal Medicine, GMC; medical director, Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, chief patient experience officer, GHS) and Bob Spahr (former director, Department of Newborn Medicine) have kept the focus on patient care with the philosophy, ‘If I can’t make you comfortable, I’m not doing my job.’ Of course above all, physicians should be as excellent and knowledgeable in their particular area.”

Dr. Jeffreys used his vast knowledge to become excellent in neurology. And he’s put that to good use while he continued to practice well beyond the normal retirement age of 65.

“I think if you enjoy doing something and it’s positive, there’s no shame in continuing beyond normal retirement age,” he said. “Most people who take good care of themselves are still pretty healthy at 65, so if we can squeeze another 30 years out of them, I think that’s good.”

Dr. Jeffreys sees signs of his good health being his survival of a fractured hip two years ago. He says that a fractured hip can often be a terminal diagnoses for an elderly patient who’s not in good health.

And he believes the Geisinger system is in good health as he walks away from it.

“Dr. Steele has brought fiscal responsibility and vision to allow the system to achieve its goals,” Dr. Jeffreys said. “You can’t do it without resources and he has certainly provided those.”

And while Geisinger has now extended the system across the state and even to neighboring states while it turns 100 this year, it still serves its original Danville community well.

“Of course, it’s a blessing to the community because it still serves the health needs of the people and even in economic hard times, employment is pretty robust,” Dr. Jeffreys said.

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