When the term retirement age comes up, most folks presume it ranges from 55 to maybe 70.
Dr. J. Carl Hornberger officially ends his career Friday at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation after 58 years of doctoring Modestans and other area residents. Hes 90, with 91 about 11/2 months off. If not for a worn-out knee, he might have kept going for another year or two.
I just felt this is the time, he said. Ive enjoyed it. I already miss the contact with the people. Ive had patients Ive known since 1960. Many of them Ive known for 40 or 50 years. Theyre not just patients. Theyre friends. I know them. I know their families.
Since his first day at work at Gould Medical on Nov. 1, 1955, hes helped usher medicine into the modern era and cant help but find himself in awe of the advances.
It used to be if you had cataracts, you could have them taken out he said. You could still see, but youd have to wear thick lenses (eyeglasses). Now, its a 20-minute procedure. Its a miracle. They just replace it (the lens). I just had a knee replacement in May, and its going great.
More so, hes experienced the dramatic evolution of medicine from individual private practices into a burgeoning industry.
After starting college at Harvard University just a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hornberger graduated and went on to University of Rochesters Medical School and then to a residency in Cleveland.
When he accepted the offer from the Maino brothers at Gould Medical in Modesto, other doctors in Cleveland vented.
When they heard I was coming to California to join a medical group, they were quite upset, he said. Group practices, to them, were socialized medicine.
Indeed, most physicians ran their own practices, he said. Even those who shared office space ran their practices individually. What is now Kaiser Permanente began evolving in the 1930s and 1940s when the Kaiser Corp. began offering health care services for the companys steel mill and shipyard workers. But there were few other group practices nationwide.
Gould Medical formed here in 1948, and Hornberger signed on seven years later and at a time when doctors still made house calls. They also were expected to donate their time at the countys Scenic Hospital to teach residents and provide care, he said.
Gratis, Hornberger said.
The basic structure of medicine in the U.S., he said, changed in 1965 with the implementations of Title XVIII, which created Medicare, and Title XIX, which created Medcaid.
It changed the economics of the (medical) delivery system quite a bit, Hornberger said. Prior to 1965, everything was fee for service. The cost was small. The cost of doing business wasnt great. Then (with Medicare and Medicaid) all the funding became available to pay for services. Hospitals would arrange for services with a particular physician for a set fee or on a contract basis.
He became involved in organizations including the California Medical Association and the Foundation for Medical Care that set about establishing fees for various types of services and procedures, which didnt please others in the profession.
It was met with a certain amount of antagonism, but it gradually became accepted, he said.
And if Hornberger hadnt chosen a career in medicine? His mother was a professional musician. Hornberger began playing the trumpet as a child and briefly entertained thoughts of a career in music.
My idols were Harry James and Doc Severinsen, he said. But that wasnt my destiny. The Lord didnt equip me with the talent and drive to move into that area.
Even so, he kept on playing.
When we got to Modesto, I was astonished they had a symphony orchestra in this dusty little town (at the time), he said. He went on to play in the orchestra during an era in which virtually anyone could play. He joined its board of directors. Eventually, it converted to a truly professional orchestra, recruiting professional musicians, many of them from the Bay Area.
A freeway symphony, he called it.
He continued to play in a brass quartet at Trinity United Presbyterian Church, in Modesto Junior Colleges concert band and MoBand until just a few years ago.
I got older and my ability diminished, he said.
But not his love for medicine. Hornbergers career covered the metamorphosis of the medical industry in the Valley and in the United States.
And after nearly six decades of doctoring here, hes finally the retiring type.