Dr. Richard Cohen Retires After Serving the Hamilton Community for 44 Years

Dr. Richard Cohen Retires After Serving the Hamilton Community for 44 Years

Dr. Richard Cohen is retiring on July 1, 2018 after a 44-year medical career in Hamilton. His Family Medicine practice has been located at 52 Utica Street since 1981. Cohen, a native of Minnesota, arrived in 1974 and has witnessed first-hand the growth of healthcare in Hamilton and Southern Madison County.

Prior to Dr. Cohen’s arrival, Hamilton’s only family physician was about to leave the area. The local League of Women Voters determined that a family physician group practice would not only provide needed care but would also provide stability and hopefully attract other specialists, a prediction which proved correct. This led to the formation of the Mid-York Health Planning Committee with vital assistance from Community Memorial Hospital.

Application was made to the National Health Service Corps of the US Public Health Service which supplied physicians to physician-poor areas both rural and urban throughout the country.

Not only was Hamilton approved as a site, it also became one of the most successful sites in the country. The practice known as the Mid-York Family Health Center was thus established on the campus of Community Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Cohen became its first provider. The group practice solidified the next year at three physicians. A branch office was opened in Sherburne and some physicians, including Dr. Cohen, eventually left that practice to open their own offices.

At one time, there were as many as fourteen family physicians on staff. The prediction of the League of Women Voters came true as the specialties of cardiology, orthopedics, urology, and gastroenterology arrived allowing the Hospital to expand its services.

Dr. Cohen decided to come to Hamilton while serving his internship in Portland, Oregon. He wasn’t sure what specialty to pursue, and he wanted to perform government service. He enlisted in the National Health Service Corps and chose Hamilton as his service area after he and his wife Margie paid a visit on a snowy March day. Their plan was to stay in Hamilton for two years while Margie attended Syracuse University to earn her master’s degree in Audiology. They would then move back to Minnesota. They were wrong by only 42 years and counting!

One of Dr. Cohen’s most memorable moments came during his first week on the job. He received a 2:00 AM call from the Community Memorial Maternity ward. A labor patient was going to deliver any minute. Living in Morrisville at the time, Dr. Cohen had to get to the hospital quickly. He sped through the red light on Broad Street on the way to the hospital. Noticing a police car with lights flashing behind him, he jumped out of his car and ran into the hospital telling the first nurse he saw that he was Dr. Cohen and was there to deliver a baby and to please find a way to keep the police officer away. Later he learned the head nurse chided the officer for chasing down our new doctor. No ticket was issued!

After three-years with the National Health Service Corps, Dr. Cohen became a civilian employee of the Mid-York Family Health Center, and in 1981 he left to open his private office. Margie had earned her audiology degree and worked for an ear, nose, and throat physician in Norwich until she later opened her own private audiology practice in 1999 at her husband’s office building. She will continue to performing hearing testing and dispense hearing aids at her current location after Dr. Cohen’s retirement.

“I went into private practice because I had hit a critical point in my career. I wanted to make my own decisions,” said Dr. Cohen. He purchased and completely renovated the run-down property at 52 Utica Street and opened his practice there 37 years ago on his mother’s birthday, January 13. “Being in private practice has been great! I could do what I felt best, and if something didn’t work out, it was on me. I would made corrections and move on,” commented Dr. Cohen. This independence gave him the freedom to computerize is office records in 1994 at a time when fewer than 5% of US physicians were doing so.

Dr. Cohen has treated thousands of patients and made lasting friendships with both his medical colleagues and patients. “Dr. Cohen is a thoughtful physician with all his patients and his colleagues,” commented Dr. Robert Delorme, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Community Memorial. Dr. Cohen feels that while he has learned a great deal from the established medical education system, some of his most important learning came from observing senior physicians Drs. Carl Ellsworth (Waterville), Frank Mathias (Morrisville), Armand Hoch (Oriskany Falls), George Gillmore (Hamilton) and his father, Dr. Bernard A. Cohen. “There is more to this business than being smart and knowing the science. Being a person and connecting with a patient as a person and taking time to listen to patients as they talk to you can help them feel better. This has incredible value,” said Dr. Cohen. He advised future physicians to “remember why you went into this profession in the first place and maintain your humanity despite all the forces that will be steering you away from that. This is what the profession is all about.”

Dr. Cohen has been an active member of the medical staff at Community Memorial Hospital and has held every staff office including being its youngest president; its first Chief of Family Medicine; and its first Director of Continuing Medical Education. He has also served on the hospital’s Board of Directors and was Medical Director of the Skilled Nursing Facility. He played an active role in the development of the Central New York regionalization program for obstetrical and neonatal care that was spearheaded by Drs. Richard Aubry and Margaret Williams through Crouse Hospital. He has given over four decades of continuous service on the clinical faculty of SUNY Upstate Medical School receiving the school’s Physician’s Award for Voluntary Faculty Service in 2003. Former students include a recent president of the American Medical Association and recent Dean of the SUNY Upstate.

In the community, Cohen is currently the president of Hamilton Community Chest and a member of the Hamilton Symphony planning committee. His proudest achievement is the establishment in 1987 of Hamilton’s Mid-York Little League baseball/softball program for area boys and girls which ultimately led to the development of Hooks Wiltse Field complex on Eaton Street. In retirement, Cohen says that he doesn’t have any specific plans other than continuing to teach at Upstate, to spend a little more time with his bird watching hobby, and to catch up on his reading. “My retired friends tell me unexpected things fall into your lap, so I am looking forward to seeing what those things are!”

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