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Address in Philadelphia at the American Hospital Association Convention

September 16, 1952

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. This meeting gives me an opportunity to talk on one of my favorite subjects-the health of the American people.

When I stood up here awhile ago and presented this Certificate of Merit to Mr. McNamara, he was under the impression that that was a put-up job, and it was--I was a party to it. And the mayor and myself maneuvered the situation so that the President of the United States could get two introductions instead of one.

I was standing up here at the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I noticed in looking around over the audience that everybody kept looking at me, and wondering why in the Sam Hill I wasn't doing a little singing myself. And I will tell you why. I am like Artemus Ward, as a "singist'' I'm not a success. I am saddest when I sing, and so are those who listen to me. The singer in the family is now in California.

I feel very close to you people who are here today. In fact, I think perhaps I can qualify as a hospital administrator myself, because the Federal Government operates the largest group of hospitals in the country. You see, I have some of the same headaches that you do. Just some. I know something about the nature of your problems, and I also know about the wonderful work you are doing.

I am proud of our Federal hospitals, and I am proud that they are members of the American Hospital Association. All our hospitals--voluntary, municipal, and State, as well as Federal--and all the people who serve in them can take great pride in what they have done to help lift the Nation's standard of health in recent years.

We now have the highest standard of health in our history. Life expectancy has never been so high; the occurrence of communicable diseases has never been so low.

Typhoid fever, smallpox, diphtheria, pellagra, rickets, and malaria have been virtually wiped out. In fact, these diseases are so rare today I am told that many of our younger physicians have never even seen a

We have overcome the major causes of infant mortality, and today only one mother in 1,400 dies at childbirth.

From 1944 to 1950, the general death rate in our Nation declined 10 percent. Deaths from tuberculosis were reduced 46 percent; from influenza and pneumonia, 50 percent; from syphilis, 53 percent.

Contrary to what some of you may have been led to expect, I do not claim sole credit for these remarkable achievements. I am sometimes accused of claiming credit for everything good that has happened in the United States while I have been President, and, by the same token, I am also accused of never having made a mistake.

As for mistakes, I know that I make them like everyone else, and I do admit them from time to time. However, it has not seemed necessary for me to spend a great deal of time calling attention to my mistakes because there have always been plenty of other people who were willing to do that for me.

You hospital administrators know what I mean because you have to serve as the whipping boys for a lot of other people, too.

Actually, our magnificent achievements in the field of health have resulted primarily from teamwork. We could not have made this record unless everyone had done his part--doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators, and all the other workers who are devoted to keeping people well. We all have our places on the team, and none of us could do the job without the help of all the others.

One of the best illustrations of what can be accomplished through teamwork is what has happened in our medical program for veterans.

At the end of World War II, we set out on a program to revitalize the medical services of the Veterans Administration and to make sure that men and women who had been disabled in the defense of our country would receive medical care second to none. That program has been successful beyond what everyone thought would be possible.

This success has been made possible by the wholehearted cooperation of the private practitioners, professional schools, and hospitals. The Veterans Administration has secured the part-time services of over 100,000 experts in the medical field to aid its full-time staff. And the faculties of nearly every leading medical school in the country are now working with the Veterans Administration to provide an ever-higher quality of medical care.

I am delighted it's that way. This unexcelled medical care for our veterans shows how the Government and the American medical profession can work together for the benefit of everyone.

While we have been making these advances in veterans' medicine, we have made equally impressive gains in national defense medicine--in caring for the men and women in the armed services.

In the fighting in Korea, the mortality rate among the wounded who reach medical aid is only half the rate of World War II--and that was remarkably low. Eighty-five percent of the wounded are now returned to active duty. The most amazing thing is that this wonderful record is being made with one-half the number of physicians per 1,000 troops that were used in World War II. We have been able to do this only because there has been the closest kind of coordination among our three medical services and civilian health agencies.

And while we are speaking of teamwork, I want to pay tribute here to the contribution that you, and the medical profession, and the Red Cross, and the American people, have made to the national blood program. It has been a magnificent achievement. But let us remember, however, that we dare not relax our efforts. The supply of blood needed for our troops in Korea, for the patients in your hospitals here at home, and for civil defense reserves is dangerously low. I appeal again to every American to give blood if he can.

Now, all these evidences of collaboration between the health profession and the Government may come as a surprise to you. I am sure they will be a surprise to most people in view of all that has been said about the terrible things I have been trying to do to the medical profession.

The fact is that the medical profession has more to do with determining the policies of the Federal Government today than ever before in history with regard to health. All the groups concerned with health have come together in the Health Resources Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. Howard Rusk, to give their help and advice to the Government. The president-elect of the American Hospital Association is a member of this Committee, and a high official of the American Medical Association serves as vice chairman. The Committee is doing a marvelous job. And I am paying tribute to them.

All this doesn't mean that there is nothing left to argue about. I expect we will go right on in the American way having differences of opinion about the part the Federal Government should play in helping to meet the health needs of our citizens. Now, personally, I have always understood that the Constitution of the United States imposes upon the Government of the United States a responsibility with respect to the general welfare of its citizens. And certainly no one can pretend that good health is not a matter of first importance so far as the general welfare is concerned.

That is why, ever since I have been President, I have recommended programs which I believe will provide better medical and health services for all our people. Some groups have received these proposals enthusiastically. Others have been strongly against them. That is what happens every time we try to move forward. We have to make each advance by overcoming the objections of those who want to pull back.

My only interest in this matter is better health for all our people. That is why I have constantly asked the "pullbacks" to come forward with plans of their own. But you know, it is a failing common to the "pullbacks"--they don't want to move ahead at all, no matter how it's done. They just want to stand still, with things as they are, or they even want to move backward.

Even now they seem to be advocating the amazing proposition that Government should have nothing to do with health except for "locally administered indigent medical care programs."

That's about like saying we don't need any form of social security except the county poorhouse. These people really want to go back to horse and buggy days. I am here to tell you we are just not going back to horse and buggy days. We can't, if we wanted to.

Fortunately, we have gone ahead in this country, despite the "pullbacks," to accomplish what we could over their opposition.

Now I will tell you a story right here that is most interesting. I have collected since I have been in the White House a great many stories about the improvement of that structure and about the various Presidents and First Ladies who have been in it.

There is a story around the White House that Mrs. Millard Fillmore brought the first bathtub into the White House. There is also a story in connection with it, that the local medical association in Cincinnati, Ohio, passed a resolution calling Mrs. Fillmore an indecent person because she had put the bathtub in the White House. This medical association in Cincinnati said that it was unsanitary, that it was unhealthy, that no person should take all his clothes off at one time.

Well, my friends, there has been some progress since that date, and I want to say to you that there are more bathtubs in the White House now than there are in the Benjamin Franklin Hotel.

As a matter of fact, we have accomplished a great deal, as this story I have just told you illustrates.

We established in 1946 a Federal aid program for the construction of hospitals to be owned and operated by the people in local communities. As a result, thousands upon thousands are getting hospital care who never had it before, especially in the rural areas. By now more than 1,800 projects for hospitals, health centers, and other medical facilities have been approved. Already, this program has added 88,000 beds and about 350 health centers to the Nation's health resources.

One of the best things about this program is that more than one-half of these facilities are in towns which never had hospitals before. This is going to help correct the problem of the proper distribution of doctors. More young physicians will set up their practices in the country if they have modern hospitals in which they can work.

This hospital survey and construction program is an example of a happy and successful partnership between the Federal Government, the State Governments--governments of the local communities. The States take responsibility for orderly planning to meet hospital needs. Local citizens take responsibility for raising about two-thirds of the funds and for operating their hospitals.

This is the kind of teamwork by which we were able to meet the needs of 18 million Americans--one in eight of our population-who required hospital care last year. It is an achievement in which Americans can take real pride.

Now I want to remind you that behind all the work in our hospitals, behind all the advances in health, and behind all the health profession can do for the sick, is the underlying force of medical research. The key to all past accomplishments has been in painstaking research brought to the point of practical