UCSF Health Remembers Bertram Lubin, Former President of Children’s Hospital Oakland

By Kristen Bole

The San Francisco Bay Area has lost a great humanitarian, ardent supporter of children’s health and advocate for children with sickle cell disease in the passing of Bertram Lubin, MD, former president and chief executive officer of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. Lubin passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on June 27, 2020. He was 81.

portrait of Bertram Lubin
Bertram Lubin

“Bert’s stellar career spanned fifty years in advancing the health and wellbeing of children,” said Mark R. Laret, president and chief executive officer of UCSF Health. “His work as a physician, researcher, hospital leader and philanthropist had a profound impact on countless children and adults. His tireless pursuit in helping disadvantaged children in the East Bay touched both his professional and personal life.”

Lubin grew up in Bellevue, Pa., a small town outside of Pittsburgh. He often spoke about his parents’ fruit and vegetable market, where he worked from a very young age. He completed medical school at the University of Pittsburgh and conducted a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Drafted into the army, Lubin served in Vietnam as a physician in a provincial health program. When he returned home, he conducted a hematology/oncology fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital, then returned to CHOP, at University of Pennsylvania, to become director of the Hematology Laboratory and an assistant professor of pediatrics.

Joining Children’s Hospital Oakland in 1973 as chief of Hematology/Oncology, Lubin launched the research program that became Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. As a scientist, he was instrumental in numerous breakthroughs, particularly in blood diseases that disproportionately affect minorities, most notably sickle cell disease. His advocacy for conducting sickle cell screening at birth led to California requiring such screening routinely for all newborns. Today, similar policies have been adopted in all U.S. states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Bert exuded empathy, understanding and concern for all children, families and his community,” said Shahan Soghikian, chairman of the Board of Directors, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. “He was a rare individual who combined his passion for healing, intellectual curiosity for new cures, and hospital leadership with ease. The Board is profoundly grateful for the tireless energy he brought to making Children’s Hospital Oakland what it is today. We are honored to have worked alongside him and are proud to carry his mission forward.”

In 2009, Lubin was chosen to be president and CEO of Children’s Hospital Oakland, becoming the first pediatrician to serve as a CEO of a children’s hospital in California. He realized the unique challenges facing the stand-alone children’s hospital, and became the driving force behind the affiliation between Children’s Hospital Oakland and the University of California, San Francisco. After the affiliation, he remained associate dean for children's health for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.

Lubin has always been committed to the health outcomes of vulnerable populations, as seen in his longtime commitment to his patients with sickle cell anemia and his recent dedication to immigrant health access and care. He loved working at Oakland Children’s Hospital, where he was on a first name basis not only with the medical staff, but also with the nurses, cafeteria employees, cleaning staff and security. That was important to him and among the things for which he said he hoped to be remembered.

“[I hope that I will be remembered] as somebody who cared about the underserved and as somebody who cared about everyone that works here,” Lubin said upon his retirement in 2018. “I know the telephone operators and housekeepers – they all know me and ask how I’m doing. It’s spiritual for me to walk in the door and have people really care about me. That makes me tick. It’s who I am. I want to be remembered as someone who was proud to be part of this family.”

Lubin made significant gifts to a variety of causes, including First 5 California, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Oakland Leaf, Oakland Community Pools Project, East Bay College Fund, and the Notes and Words fundraiser, as well as founding the Center for Community Health and Engagement (CCHE) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. He was active in many local service organizations and served on more than a dozen boards, including the Oakland Mayor’s Health Task Force, Oakland Promise, and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

In addition to playing and listening to jazz, Lubin was an avid tennis player who played on his college team and continued to play as long as he could. He found great joy in watching the Warriors recent championships.

More than anything, Lubin was a caring person who positively impacted as many lives as possible, whether by mentoring up-and-coming scientists through the summer internship program for young scientists or by lending a helping hand to people who needed medical advice. He had a huge heart, a warm smile, and a commitment to leaving the world a better place.

“His positivity, energy, and passion for children and his community was unceasing,” Laret added. “He will be sorely missed.”

He is survived by his wife, Vivian Scharlach, and his children. The family has asked that donations be made in his name to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Center of Excellence for Immigrant Child and Wellbeing and/or the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Center for Child and Community Health.

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals are among the nation’s leading pediatric specialty hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report. Their expertise includes the full range of pediatric conditions, including cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders, as well as the care of critically ill newborns. The hospital campuses, in San Francisco and Oakland, are recognized worldwide for their innovative research aimed at treating and preventing pediatric diseases. They are part of UCSF Health, whose adult hospital ranks among the top 10 medical centers nationwide. UCSF Health’s hospitals serve as the teaching hospitals for the University of California, San Francisco, a national leader in biomedical research and graduate-level health/sciences education. Visit www.ucsfhealth.org