Given the profession for which ophthalmologist Dr. Warren Lieberman was renowned, the phrase is an overly worn cliche - but quite fitting: He was a visionary.
Lieberman, who died at age 84 on Oct. 4 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, founded the South Florida Ophthalmological Self-Insuring Trust in 1976. The concept, at the time called the first of its kind in the nation, had 61 eye doctors from the tri-county area form their own malpractice insurance company, a trust against malpractice lawsuits.
The impetus was a way to lower their malpractice rates.
Lieberman came up with the after doing the math and realized that fellow eye doctors were paying more than their share for malpractice insurance, given that doctors, which included neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons, paid insurance according to classifications. Eye doctors had fewer lawsuits, yet were grouped with the other surgeons.
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At the time, Lieberman had been in private ophthalmology practice in Miami since 1961 with Drs. Harry Horwich and David Kasner. He would serve 25 years on the volunteer faculty at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute as assistant professor in the glaucoma department.
“They put their reputations and their bank books on the line,” said Burt Redlus, the group’s attorney, in a 1976 Miami Herald story. Lieberman, who served as the trust’s president and CEO for the rest of his life, was low-key about his efforts. “Just a technical argument,” he said.
But the accomplishment for which Lieberman had the most pride, according to his son Richard, was his formation of the Center for Excellence in Eye Care at Baptist Hospital along with colleagues Dr. Henry Trattler and Lesley Spektor. When the trio formed the practice in 1995 inside the Kendall hospital, they had 10 ophthalmologists. The Center, which now has 16 medical doctors (MD) and optometrists (OD), serves about 500 to 600 patients daily, Spektor said.
“He had wonderful leadership skills and he was somewhat of a visionary and was very open to new and challenging ideas when we started to put the idea of combining practices together,” Spektor said. “He had experience with the malpractice insurance trust and he had a good knowledge of doctors in many areas and the standards of practice. He was the perfect choice for becoming our medical director.”
Lieberman would hold that position until his retirement in 2001. He really was the logical choice, said the Center’s ophthalmologist Louis Kasner, a specialist in the medical and surgical treatment of macular and retinal diseases. Kasner, son of Lieberman’s late medical partner David Kasner, joined the Center in 1996.
“There are relatively few doctors who are both highly articulate from a business perspective as well as a clinical perspective. He was both,” Kasner said, also praising Lieberman for his “highly energetic” personality.
The Long Branch, New Jersey-born Lieberman loved boating, golfing and traveling. His time in Miami-Dade dates to 1937 when his father Irving Lieberman sold his creation, Tommy Tucker Ice Cream, on the streets of Miami Beach and to Miami-Dade Public Schools’ cafeterias for 30 years. Lieberman went to Ida M. Fisher Junior High and Miami Beach Senior High (Class of ’48). He went on to graduate from Tulane Medical School in 1957 and that’s where he met his wife of 57 years, Patricia.
“My father taught my brothers and I that one of the most important things in life is to give back to people when you can, and he set an example nearly every day of his life,” said son Richard Lieberman. “As a leader, he enjoyed bringing people together to fulfill common goals. Of all the people I admire, for me, my father alone is enough inspiration for a lifetime.”
Lieberman is survived by his wife Patricia, sons Arthur, Richard and David and four grandchildren. Services were held. Donations in his name can be made to the UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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