George Baehr (1887-1978).

  • Profession: Doctor of Medicine. Physician. Chief of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Fellow in Pathology and Bacteriology in Dr. Emanuel Libman (1872-1946)‘s laboratory, New York.
  • Residences: New York, Freiburg, Vienna.
  • Relation to Mahler: Year 1911Health.
  • Correspondence with Mahler: No.
  • Born: 04-1887, New York, America.
  • Died: 1978. Aged 91.
  • Buried: Unknown.

George Baehr (1887-1978), in his seventy-year career as a medical educator, clinician, and group health prepayment plan founder and administrator, bridged the fields of medical care and clinical medicine. Born in New York City, Baehr completed the required one year of undergraduate work at Columbia College in 1904 and entered the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he received the M.D. degree in 1908. After completing an internship and residency in surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, he studied pathology, physiology, and biochemistry at the Universities of Freiburg and Vienna from 1911 to 1913.

Baehr returned to Mount Sinai in 1913, where he held a succession of appointments and served as attending physician, director of medicine, and director of clinical research from 1927 to 1950. While at Mount Sinai his research contributions covered a wide area and included work in collagen diseases, renal complications of heart disease, and hematology. He was also a pioneer in the field of continuing medical education.

Baehr became involved in public health during World War I, as a member of the American Red Cross Typhus Fever Commission to the Balkans and the Ukraine in 1915-1916. After America’s entry in the war, he served as commander of an army base hospital in France from 1918 to 1919.

In 1931 Baehr established an early experiment in prepaid medical care at Mount Sinai, establishing the Consultation Service for People of Moderate Means which provided medical services for a flat fee. Following the election of his long-time friend, Fiorello LaGuardia, as reform mayor of New York in 1933, Baehr acted as mayoral advisor on health and social planning and served on a number of boards. In 1939 LaGuardia and Baehr established an innovative health care program for residents of the Vladeck Houses, the first low-income city/state housing. By opting to add one dollar to their monthly rent, residents could receive physician care for their families in their homes.

On LaGuardia’s recommendation Baehr was appointed Chief Medical Officer for National Civilian Defense in 1941, and on his travels throughout the country Baehr was able to study existing group practice and prepayment plans. Baehr brought this knowledge, in 1943, to LaGuardia’s Mayor’s Committee on Medical Care. which had been created to develop a health services program for the city. When the committee was unable to reach a consensus among three proposed health delivery systems: compulsory health insurance, prepaid group practice, or a fee-for-service indemnity plan with limited benefit coverage, LaGuardia opted for the prepaid group practice which Baehr espoused. Baehr was then appointed chairman of the Subcommittee on Plan and Scope.

This subcommittee outlined a group practice prepayment plan which, four years later, provided the basis for the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, Inc. (H.I.P.). In 1945, as physicians were released from military service, Baehr and Dr. Dean Clark began recruiting them for medical group practices in the city, and with support from several foundations, Baehr and others succeeded in establishing in 1947 the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, Inc.

Baehr served as president and medical director of H.I.P. from 1950 to 1957, during which time the plan struggled successfully, against opposition from organized medicine, to expand its program and to become one of the largest and most effective prepayment group practice plans in the country. Following his retirement in 1957, Baehr continued to serve H.I.P. as a special medical consultant.

In addition to his professional appointments and service as an advisor to Mayor LaGuardia, Baehr participated in a variety of state and national medical and public health societies, was a member of the New York State Public Health Council from 1933 to 1975 (chairman 1955-1969), and was recognized nationally as an influential spokesman for reform of health care delivery systems.


George Baehr was born in 1887 and graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons at the age of 21. He began a rotating internship at The Mount Sinai Hospital in 1908, studied pathology and experimental pharmacology in Europe, and then returned to Mount Sinai. He maintained an affiliation with the Hospital until his death in 1978. In his early years, he had an appointment as Associate Pathologist in charge of General Pathology, as well as clinician on the ward staff. He eventually headed the First Medical Service of the Hospital, all while maintaining a busy private practice.

Dr. Baehr made significant research contributions in the areas of collagen disease, hematology, and the adrenal complications of heart disease. He also was a pioneer in public health, organizing the first group health plan in New York, and in 1947 he established the Health Insurance Plan of New York (HIP) at the request of his friend and patient, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Baehr served on many government boards and committees at the local, state, and federal levels, including the New York City Board of Hospitals for 25 years and the State Public Health Council for more than 35 years. In 1945, the Surgeon General appointed him to the first NIH Scientific Advisory Board.

Baehr served in both world wars. In World War I, at the age of 30, he was the Commander of Base Hospital No.3, the Mount Sinai based hospital unit that was established in France. During their few months of active service abroad, the unit admitted over 9,000 patients, including over 1,000 a day at times. During World War II, Baehr was Chief Medical Officer of the U.S. Office of Civil Defense.

Baehr retired from active service at Mount Sinai in 1951. After this, he was on Consultant status, and remained actively involved with the Hospital, helping Mount Sinai to establish a medical school in the 1960s and 70s. George Baehr received many honors and awards during his lifetime. He died in 1978 at the age of 91.

  • Mount Sinai Archive, Dr Baehr: Box 1, folder 7: Letters, speeches, 1942-1978: Includes Gustav Mahler material.


“Sometime in February 1911, Dr. Emanuel Libman was called in consultation by Mahler’s personal physician, Dr. Fraenkel, to see the famous composer and director. Apparently Dr. Fraenkel had suspected that Mahler’s prolonged fever and physical debility might be due to subacute bacterial endocarditis and therefore called Libman, Chief of the First Medical Service and Associate Director of Laboratories at the Mt. Sinai Hospital, in consultation. Libman was at that time the outstanding authority on the disease. At the time of the consultation. the Mahlers were occupying a suite of rooms at the old Savoy Plaza Hotel (or it may have been the Plaza) at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street overlooking Central Park. Libman confirmed the diagnosis clinically by finding a loud systolic-presystolic murmur over the precordium characteristic of chronic rheumatic mitral disease, a history of prolonged low grade fever, a palpable spleen, characteristic petechiae on the conjunctivae and skin and slight clubbing of fingers. To confirm the diagnosis bacteriologically, Libman telephoned me to join him at the hotel and bring the paraphernalia and culture media required for a blood culture. On arrival I withdrew 20 of blood from an arm vein with syringe and needle, squirted part of it into several bouillon flasks and mixed the remainder with melted agar media which I then poured into sterile Petri dishes. After 4 or 5 days of incubation in the hospital laboratory, the Petri plates revealed numerous bacterial colonies and all the bouillon flasks were found to show a pure culture of the same organism which was subsequently identified as streptococcits viridans. As this was long before the da)ys of antibiotics, the bacterial findings sealed Mahler’s doom. He insisted on being told the truth and then expressed a wish to die in Vienna. Accordingly, he and his wife left shortly thereafter for Paris, where the diagnosis and prognosis were reconfirmed, and then proceeded to Vienna.”

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