Dr. William I. Young, a prominent physician in Los Angeles’ African American community who led efforts to increase the diversity of the medical staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and worked to improve the health of those living in underserved communities, has died. He was 56.
A staff member in pulmonary and critical care at Cedars-Sinai for more than 25 years, Young died at the hospital Monday after a brief battle with cancer, said family friend Karen E. Hudson.
Young was viewed as an important bridge between the city’s medical community and its African American residents. He was the founder of Health Encouragement Through Active Living, a nonprofit foundation launched in 1999 to provide medical information and help improve the health of residents in underserved communities.
Through various publications, a column in the Los Angeles Sentinel and personal appearances, Young spent much of his time trying to persuade African Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles.
“He had deep roots in the African American community,” said Dr. Stephen J. Uman, a friend and colleague.
Working with a number of churches, he said, Young provided questionnaires to assess the level of medical knowledge and needs of the black community, with the goal of guiding people in how to get care and educating them on the risks of obesity, drinking and other unhealthy habits.
Young was also a role model for young African Americans. On Sundays, Uman said, Young could often be found making hospital rounds with high school students to let them know what went on in a hospital and about careers in the medical field.
In 2002, Young was honored by the March of Dimes as a leader for his efforts in raising awareness about the risks that premature African American babies face and the need for adequate prenatal care.
Dr. John G. Harold, Cedars-Sinai chief of staff, said Young “had a profound impact on the health of the Los Angeles community.”
He was not only a physician to many of the city’s prominent African American civic leaders and entertainment figures, Harold said, but he was a trusted advisor to members of Congress and state and city officials on healthcare issues and problems of the African American community.
“So he was more than just a physician, he was a community leader,” Harold said.
At Cedars-Sinai, where he was one of the first African American physicians on the staff, Young led efforts to demonstrate that the prestigious Westside medical center “was an institution for all people -- not just the mainstream or the ‘rich and famous,’ ” Harold said.
Young’s attempt to increase the diversity of the Cedars-Sinai medical staff and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration among health professionals led to the formation of the medical staff’s Cultural Diversity Committee, Harold said.
February’s annual committee-sponsored celebration honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which drew nearly 500 people at Cedars-Sinai last year, will be dedicated to Young.
In addition to his private practice, Young was an assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine and an assistant professor at the Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School in Los Angeles.
A native of Savannah, Ga., he received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1974. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1977 to begin a fellowship in pulmonary medicine at Cedars-Sinai.
Young is survived by his wife, Phyllis, who is expecting their first child in December; a son, Adam and a daughter, Erica, from his first marriage; a sister, Sara Anita Suggs; and brothers Charles and Curley Young.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at West Angeles Church of God in Christ, 3600 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles.
The family asks that memorial contributions be sent to the American Cancer Society.