Dr. Carl Brumback

They called him "The People's Doctor."

Carl Brumback was Palm Beach County's first public health doctor. In 1951, long before it was fashionable or even on the radar, he identified 56 health hazards in the county, including raw sewage being dumped into Lake Worth.

He's honored in stone, with the C.L. Brumback Health Center in Belle Glade.

"I would often be asked who it is I work for. Is it the state, the county or the federal government?" he once said. "I tell them I work for the people. The people."

Dr. Brumback died this morning. He was 97.

"It was his foresight and dedication to keeping people healthy that molded Public Health into what it is today," the health department said in a release.

At a time when the county had fewer than 115,000 people, a tenth of its more than 1.3 million now - and long before Interstate 95 made things easy - Dr. Brumback motored his Nash Rambler Station Wagon from ritzy oceanfront towns along State Road A1A to muck farms along Lake Okeechobee where tens of thousands of migrant workers picked vegetables and fruit and cut sugar cane and got sick more often than not.

In 1956, he started the first public-health residency program within a health department. Over the years, it has trained hundreds of physicians in public health and preventive medicine.

He administered polio vaccines and tetanus shots and battled tuberculosis ravaging the Glades.

He created the environmental health program that. He pressed legislators to clean up Lake Okeechobee. "The gas coming off the lake was so bad it would tarnish silverware," he said in 1998.

He was among the first to enlist nutritionists and social workers to create a total wellness plan for migrant workers. His philosophy: Every dollar spent in prevention can save thousands in treatment.

He also wrestled state and federal officials to lift restrictions on Medicaid financing so more people could get dental care, physicals, and prescriptions. He successfully accomplished this in 1981.

Brumback retired in 1986, when he was 72. But well into his 80s, he'd still go to the health department's old offices on Evernia Street every day to run the public-health residency program that has been copied around the country.

He left a legacy:

In the late 1980s, only 40 percent of the county's 7-month-old infants were immunized. Within a decade, that was 98 percent.

In that same time period, the ratio of pregnant women in the county receiving no prenatal care dropped to 3 percent from 20 percent.

And in the last three decades of the 20th century, the local life expectancy rose by 10 years.

Published in The Palm Beach Post on Jan. 13, 2012