Doctor Involved in Hospital Dispute Is a Rebel on Behalf of Tradition

Times Staff Writer

Rumpled at age 53, but still charged with energy, Dr. Stanley Frochtzwajg is a throwback to the days when family doctors rolled out of bed all hours of the night to deliver babies or cut out swollen appendixes.

Wearing a toothy smile, Frochtzwajg works from a cubbyhole across the street from Ventura's largest hospital, practicing medicine as if he were the only doctor in a dusty Kansas town.

His clothes are designer Kmart. He drives a 1985 Ford sedan. He lives in the same tract house he bought 23 years ago, 60 seconds by car from the maternity ward where he labors at Community Memorial Hospital.

"Like my father, my needs are very simple," said Frochtzwajg, son of a cabinetmaker who survived five Nazi death camps during World War II.

Now this man of simple tastes may be the first casualty in an angry yearlong dispute between rebellious physicians who practice at 102-year-old Community Memorial Hospital and its administration.

A leader in the physician rebellion, Frochtzwajg is also a rebel when it comes to the modern world of managed-care medicine, which pits doctors against their patients because they lose money every time one walks through the door.

Frochtzwajg won't accept HMO insurance. He won't even take the more generous payments of PPO plans. His patients pay up front, $70 a visit, then submit their bills to insurance companies and request reimbursement.

"An HMO doctor has to see 50 patients a day, and I see 20 to 25," he said. "HMOs tell you which specialists to use. I only refer my patients to doctors who I or my family would use."

Hospital executives recently stripped Frochtzwajg of a contract that allows Community Memorial employees to see him under their employee insurance plan -- a plan he said he honors because he believes he owes his colleagues a special courtesy. He treats about 200 patients under the contract, he said, out of a total of perhaps 2,500.

"It's ironic: It's the only [insurance] plan I accept, and they take it from me," he said last week. "I'm concerned only because this hurts my patients terribly. They lose continuity of care, because I've seen some of them for 20 years. I monitor their cancers and their chronic diseases. I know them intimately."

Hospital administrators say removal of Frochtzwajg from the employee medical plan has nothing to do with the dispute between a hospital trying to tighten its control over physicians and doctors who bristle at what they see as an erosion of their rights as a self-governing branch of the medical center.

"Clearly, [the contract cancellation] did not make the situation any better," said Dr. Richard Reisman, medical director at Community Memorial. "But I do have to tell you there were serious reasons this decision was made ... that have nothing to do with the [dispute]."

Although Reisman would not discuss those reasons, Frochtzwajg said administrators have accused him of blaming the hospital for a November burglary of his office in which his computer and printer were stolen but no money or drugs were taken.

"I would never say that, because I know the implications of making an unfounded statement," Frochtzwajg said. "I have no idea who did this."

Frochtzwajg is in every way a rebel on behalf of tradition.

His files are all paper, so he can quickly flip through patients' full medical histories and surprise them with details from decades before.

If a patient needs surgery -- be it abdominal, plastic or brain -- Frochtzwajg does it himself or assists a specialist in the operating room. "I want to be there," he said, "looking over their shoulder, to see what they're doing with my patients."

If a prospective mother can't quite deliver, he is the one who works to bring the baby into the world, naturally. If a worried grandma can't quite go to sleep, he will chat until she can. If a troubled teenager can't find her way in the world, he pledges to stick with her no matter what.

His tiny office overflows with patients who call him "Dr. Stan." Pictures of hundreds of babies he has delivered line the hall. A framed certificate shows he is a specially trained mohel, pronounced moyel in Yiddish, who performs ritual circumcisions for Jewish boys on the eighth day of their lives.

"He's an excellent physician, person and member of the community," said Dr. John Keats, medical director at Ventura's largest managed-care clinic. "Stan's a very warm and genuine person. You always know when he's coming down the hall at the hospital because he whistles. He's known for that."

If there is one certainty, Frochtzwajg said, it is that hospital politics will one day pass, and he will be left to do the job he has always felt he was cut out for.

Born in New York City in 1950 to immigrants from a Polish village, Jack and Sabina Frochtzwajg, Stan and a younger brother grew up in Los Angeles, where their dad earned a modest living by making cabinets and selling unfinished furniture.

"I never heard my father speak ill of people, and that's rather remarkable when you think of having spent five years in concentration camps," Frochtzwajg said. "My dad has an attitude of never say die, never give up, and always take people from a positive viewpoint. I try to do the same."

Frochtzwajg lived at home as he attended UCLA. After graduating from UC Irvine Medical School, Frochtzwajg completed the highly regarded UCLA family practice residency program at Ventura County Medical Center in 1980.

Dr. Lanyard Dial, the hospital's medical director, said Frochtzwajg still teaches there part time and leaves an indelible impression.

"Stan just pops into a room and lights it up, and everybody smiles. He has a passion for what he does. He's excited about life," Dial said. "He's seen and done a lot, and he has incredible common sense. He can smell it when things are wrong."

His students think he brings the esprit of family medicine with him, Dial said.

"The secret is in really caring about the patient," he said. "And Stan cares deeply."

Frochtzwajg is paid to mentor on Thursday afternoons, but he is always around after hours, checking with the young doctors about their patients, Dial said.

It was on just such an occasion that Betty Gleeson met "Dr. Stan" years ago.

Gleeson, 78, said her daughter worked as a lab tech at the county hospital and had asked the young Frochtzwajg to look in on her father, who had broken a leg in an auto accident.

"She asked if he'd just take a peek at Walt in the emergency room," Gleeson recalled.

That was about 5 p.m., and Frochtzwajg stayed till after midnight. "Then he called me to tell me that I should be prepared when I came in the next morning, because my husband's lung had collapsed. I thought that was very considerate."

Frochtzwajg cared for Walt until he died in 1992 and has seen Gleeson since 1989 when she first came in concerned about a mole on her leg. And he has delivered two of Gleeson's granddaughters.

In the doctor's office for a checkup recently, Gleeson said she now considers Frochtzwajg a close friend, so she sometimes slips and calls him "just Stan."

"But if anyone deserves to be called doctor," she said, "it's him."

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