Emergency care pioneer Loughridge dies at 93

Posted Aug. 23, 2012, at 8:05 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Chalmers A. “Babe” Loughridge, one of four Virginia physicians who created the specialty of emergency medicine in the early 1960s, died Aug. 12 in Alexandria, Va.

He was 93 and had congestive heart failure, said his son, Jeff Loughridge.

By the early 1960s, emergency rooms were becoming increasingly crowded but were poorly staffed and often without doctors on duty. James D. Mills Jr., who at the time was president of the medical staff at Alexandria Hospital (now Inova Alexandria Hospital) in northern Virginia, envisioned a better way to treat patients seeking emergency care.

In 1961, Mills recruited Dr. Loughridge (pronounced LOCK-ridge), who had a private practice as an internist, for what was considered a revolutionary project. Along with two other physicians, John McDade and William J. Weaver Jr., they would provide around-the-clock emergency medical care at Alexandria Hospital.

The Alexandria Plan, as it came to be known, was soon followed around the country and throughout the world, leading to the development of emergency medicine as a specialty.

“The Alexandria four were the first group of American doctors to engage in full-time emergency practice,” Brian J. Zink, an emergency physician and professor in Rhode Island, wrote in his 2005 book “Anyone, Anything, Anytime: A History of Emergency Medicine.”

Dr. Loughridge and the other Alexandria doctors closed their private practices to concentrate on providing emergency care. (Mills died in 1989, Weaver in 1995; McDade lives in Florida.)

The physicians staffed Alexandria Hospital’s emergency department in 12-hour shifts. They worked five consecutive days, then had five days off, with a month of annual vacation. Previously, emergency rooms were often supervised by a nurse, with physicians on call.

“The Alexandria Plan appears to have been a success from its inception,” Zink wrote in his book.

The only people who seemed unhappy with the new arrangement were other doctors, who feared they would lose patients – and money – to the expanded services of the emergency room.

Within a few years, Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report and CBS News were reporting on the innovative care provided at the Alexandria hospital.

The American College of Emergency Physicians was created in 1968 and, by 1979, the American Board of Medical Specialties had approved emergency medicine as an official specialty. Today, more than 120 million people visit emergency rooms in the United States each year.

Chalmers Aldert Loughridge was born Nov. 15, 1918, in Gallup, N.M. His skill playing baseball led to his nickname, after Babe Ruth. He was a 1941 chemical engineering graduate of the University of Colorado and worked as an engineer in Pennsylvania and Texas for 10 years.

His ambition was to be a doctor, and in 1954 he graduated from Columbia University’s medical school. He established a general practice in Alexandria in 1959 and settled in the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County.

Dr. Loughridge and the other Alexandria Plan doctors later expanded their emergency-room services to other hospitals in northern Virginia. He retired in 1986.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, the former Ruth “Reggie” Gower, and a son, Jeff Loughridge, both of Fairfax County; and three granddaughters.

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