Santa Clara Magazine is published in print for alumni and friends of the University. It is updated weekly on the web.
Dr. Jerome A. Lackner ’72, a physician and social activist who served as state health director under former Gov. Jerry Brown, died July 9, 2010, of congestive heart failure, according to an announcement by the state Department of Health Services. He was 83. Renowned as a medical expert on drug and alcohol addiction, Lackner specialized in treating substance abusers at his Sacramento clinic. He chose to forgo a traditional practice as an internist in favor of helping hard-ore drunks and drug abusers with a tough but compassionate manner based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. He reached out to treat indigent and underserved people for free. He shunned managed care, which he said encouraged substandard treatment, and often struggled to keep his practice afloat. Financial pressures forced him to quit in 1997 and go to work at a Vacaville state prison until supporters raised money to reopen his midtown clinic. "I consider myself an instrument. I treat, and God heals," he told The Bee in 1995. "And I can’t tell you what a feeling I get when I see patients who have been in absolute despair get their 30-day chips for staying sober, or their two-year chips or their four-year chips." Dr. Lackner’s practice was influenced by his lifelong support for social justice. He was personal physician to farm labor leader Cesar Chavez and medical director for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pivotal civil rights march in Alabama in 1965. He received many honors for his public contributions, including the John F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Appointed state health director in 1975, he ignited controversy with a call for decriminalizing heroin because a treatment drug, methadone, was more addictive. His department was wracked by scandals not of his making, and he ran afoul of Brown by decertifying state hospitals for shoddy practices, jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal aid. He was fired in 1978. "I never was an administrator," he told The Bee. Jerome Arnold Lackner was born in 1927 and reared in Santa Clara. At age 4 he accompanied his father, a San Jose physician, on medical rounds at state hospitals and psychiatric wards. He graduated from Santa Clara University and received a master’s degree in sociology at UC Berkeley. He earned a medical degree at the University of Southern California and a law degree at Santa Clara. He lectured in law and medicine at Santa Clara from 1973 to 1985 and was associate clinical professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine from 1979 to 1989. He was honored by Kaiser Foundation Hospitals for teaching and by the Sacramento-l Dorado Medical Society for exemplary patient treatment. A longtime Davis resident, Dr. Lackner had five children during his marriage to Yetta Lippman. Following a divorce, he married his wife, Rebecca, who survives him.