C.V. Allen, influential physician in Modesto, dies at home, leaving a legacy

C.V. Allen
C.V. Allen Modesto Bee

Dr. Charles Van Nuys Allen, who was instrumental in building a leading physicians group in Modesto, died Saturday at his home in Modesto.

He was 85.

Family members said Dr. Allen died from lung cancer. He was a community columnist for The Modesto Bee, writing more than 130 columns under the “C.V. Allen” byline from January 1999 until last September, and was an advocate for a single-payer health system for the United States.

As medical director and a physician recruiter for Gould Medical Group, Dr. Allen recruited and hired hundreds of doctors, convincing them that Modesto was a good place to practice medicine and raise a family. When Dr. Allen was in the hospital during his illness, many physicians who saw him were doctors Dr. Allen had recruited, his oldest son said.

“He will always be an inspiration to me and those who knew him,” Stevan Allen said. “He was focused. He was passionate and did not sit on the sidelines. He was a big thinker.”

Dr. Allen was vocal about the nation moving to single-payer health care — a sort of Medicare for all — as a more equitable way of paying for medical services and ensuring all Americans have access to care. He was encouraged that single payer has been discussed in California the past two years, though he thought the reforms should be done on a national scale, his son said.

“He said we couldn’t invent a worse system than ours if we tried,” Stevan Allen said. “He was data-driven and loved to point out how so many other industrialized countries had national plans that lowered costs without sacrificing quality. ”

Dr. Allen also was a pioneer in introducing managed care to the community, though it was not popular with some doctors at Gould.

“He was ahead of his time,” said Richard Fisher, a retired physician of Riverbank. “He was a remarkable man. He was a very good critical thinker about medical issues.”

Dr. Allen, who was born in Rochester, Minn., on May 10, 1933, was the son of a prominent Mayo Clinic physician. Pursuing his own career, Dr. Allen graduated from University of Minnesota Medical School in 1958 and completed an internship at University of California, San Francisco, and a three-year fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in his home state.

He was a medical officer in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Madrid, before Dr. Allen and his wife, Suzanne, settled in Modesto in 1964 and the young doctor joined the Gould Medical Group. Dr. Allen liked that Gould founders Rusty and Vernon Maino modeled the practice on the Mayo Clinic philosophy.

Dr. Allen practiced internal medicine and became a board-certified oncologist in 1975.

In his career, Dr. Allen served on the boards of Memorial Medical Center, Memorial Hospital Foundation and Gould Medical Group, which was merged into Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in 1993. He was medical director of Gould from 1988 to 1992, and then returned to patient care until retiring from clinical practice in 2000 and working as assistant medical director for physician recruiting.

When recruiting doctors from larger California cities, the East Coast or the “frozen tundra” states, Dr. Allen was not a headhunter, but a fellow doctor who called them personally and made a good case for joining the medical community in Stanislaus County, former colleagues said.

His calls were made before dawn or even Christmas morning to make sure to catch the doctors at home.

Dr. Steven Mitnick worked closely with Dr. Allen for years after he was persuaded to move from Southern California. Dr. Allen chose doctors who could work well in the collegial and patient-centered environment of Sutter Gould clinics, which today serve thousands of patients in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Those medical offices have won top ratings for patient satisfaction.

“He had a vision of what it takes to be a good doctor and how to be compassionate with patients,” Mitnick said. “He looked for those characteristics in the people he hired.”

At a recent retirement party, someone estimated that Dr. Allen recruited 562 physicians. More than 300 was a safe estimate from Mitnick.

Dr. Allen was a 49ers fan, enjoyed backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or hitting the links with his peculiar golf swing, was a movie buff and voracious reader, and enjoyed a good meal and conversation.

Dr. Allen was involved in community work with Planned Parenthood, promoted literacy through the county library, and promoted a sister-city relationship between Modesto and Khmelnitskiy, Ukraine.

He is survived by Suzanne, his wife of 62 years; children Stevan, Matthew and Lisa; and four grandchildren. A great-grandchild, Charles, was born the day before his death.

A service celebrating Dr. Allen’s life begins at 1 p.m. Feb. 2 at Emanuel Lutheran Church, 324 College Ave., Modesto. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends and colleagues donate to Community Hospice or the Modesto Symphony.