When Dr. Burton Hutman moved to Miami and found work at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial health system in 1970, the state lacked suitable care centers for the mentally ill. Often, those with mental illness were jailed.
This bothered Hutman, his children said.
That year, Hutman established a crisis intervention center at the University of Miami and defined criteria for admitting mentally ill patients into this pioneering emergency room facility. Two years later, in 1972, he helped lobby for adoption of the Baker Act in Florida, which allows for the involuntary institutionalization and examination of a person who could pose a risk to him or herself, or others.
“He had passion for the poor and the underdog and a lot of mental health [cases] were criminalized in those days,” said Wayne Hutman, his oldest son. “He came from Washington, [D.C.], and New York, and they were more advanced in that respect. In the south, he was trying to improve the day-to-day conditions for those who were mentally ill. He was trying to give them humane treatment and the medications to turn their lives around.”
Hutman died Dec. 24, at age 84, in Miami Beach. During his career, he spent 10 years at the UM center and about seven years as associate dean in the medical school at the American University of the Caribbean in Montserrat. He was also medical director at Landmark Learning Center in North Miami Beach and North Miami Community Mental Health Center, and did consulting work at South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center.
Hutman continued to practice — except on the Sabbath — until his final retirement at 77. An attempt at retirement at age 65 lasted about six months.
Instead, he became a locum tenen (a Latin phrase for someone who substitutes for another) for doctors on leave at various medical facilities in Florida, Ohio and California. He would often work with the homeless in Key West, too.
“He was one of the kindest and most compassionate people I’ve ever known,” his daughter, Cherie Levi, said. “He couldn’t tolerate negative talk and was always about being uplifting and helping and making people feel they are important. … Any act of kindness, even if it was just as simple as taking time to speak to them in a nice way to comfort them. That was really his driving force.”
Hutman, born in New York on Feb. 6, 1932, studied psychiatry, graduated from John Hopkins University and the University of Pittsburgh’s medical school. He served in the Navy as a lieutenant commander and helped fellow servicemen and women with traumatic stress and other related issues.
“He was always intrigued by the way the human mind worked,” Levi said. “It fascinated him that it could be just one chemical off in your body that might make you hear voices or behave in a certain way. All those things drove him in that direction.”
Hutman is also survived by his wife of 55 years, Jacqueline; sons Bernard and Michael; and 11 grandchildren. Services were held.