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What is the Arizona Geriatrics Society?

Providing Care to the Ever Increasing Geriatric Population

History of AzGS

The Arizona Geriatrics Society was initially a component of the Western Division of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), which was founded in 1942 and incorporated in the state of New York in 1963. Dr. George Griffith is credited as the founder of the Western Division in 1972.  He remained active until shortly before his death in 1975.  The 1976 Western Division’s annual program held in Phoenix, honored him, and in correspondence recorded in 1978 by one of the founding physicians, W. Phillip Corr, M.D., described Dr. Griffith as “a gentleman, a brilliant clinician, and a profound organizer for the improvement of geriatric medicine and medical care.”  The Western Division initially operated under the AGS.  In later documentation it is recognized that Dr. Corr was very instrumental in the initial development of the western region and worked closely with Dr. Griffith in our infancy to create a viable organization that would meet the needs of physicians and healthcare providers of geriatric care over time. 

During this time frame there was some reciprocity of funds.  The AGS offered financial support of Western Society for certain programs, in various regional locations.  Past meeting minutes indicate the AGS helped with the funding of some of the annual educational conferences, including doing mass mailing to promote the conferences.  As a division of the American Geriatrics Society, membership dues were retained by the AGS and membership lists managed at a national level.

In early 1975 meeting records show that the western division board was considering separate incorporation.  Problems with membership list management, financial sharing arrangements, general communication with a national organization thousands of miles away, and a financial crisis at the national level had left the national organization understaffed which further spurred discussion of separation.  Local groups under the western division were finding their own funding mechanisms for presenting programs to their members.  The Western Region was not interested in helping to support the growing financial concerns of the parent organization, however the national organization had clearly voiced that they would not support separate incorporation of the regional division.  At this time, the AGS began to focus on physician-based programs and discouraged programs that were of interest to the “paramedical personnel.” (Minutes May 25, 1975).  The Western Division continued to develop and present annual educational programs.  At the same time the Western Division was gaining support from community based companies and groups.  The leadership saw the future of geriatrics as an effort that focused on all geriatric care providers, not just physicians and was growing less happy with the revenue sharing arrangements and controls the national organization was asserting.  Nineteen seventy-six became a year of reflection and reorganization as the Western Region began to shore up its own financial resources and forge a pat different from the parent organization.  Ultimately, in 1977, the Western Region would incorporate under the AGS, as a New York corporation in its first step in gaining independence from the parent to control its own finances and membership needs.


During these formative years the Board of Directors was the core of the Western Region.  They organized numerous regional educational events and opened them to all geriatric care providers in an effort to advance geriatric care.  All general “members” were members of the national society.  Board members from the regional area have been documented in various correspondence of the Western Division.  These individuals met periodically in various locales represented by the members of the Board.  They include:  Honolulu, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sun City, Santa Fe, Denver, Tucson, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Sacramento. In 1979 the AGS approved adding two provinces in Canada to the Western Division.  In the interim, local areas held their own continuing education programs that promoted geriatric learning.  As early as 1975, President-Elect, Ralph Goldman called for formal procedures to be written and duties to be outlined in a manual for future boards to utilize and offer assistance to individual groups that functioned in various locations within the Western Division.


A news release dated October 17, 1975 states the “American Geriatric Society has decided to move its Western Division headquarters from Los Angeles to Sun City…..”  The press release discussed the logical relocation of the Society to the trend-setting retirement community of Sun City where Boswell Hospital was in the forefront of geriatric research and care giving.  Boswell Board Chairman, John (Jim) R. Mead was instrumental in securing backing and maintaining support for the Society for the year immediately following the relocation.


In early 1976, Western Division President, Dr. Ralph Goldman, practicing physician at the VA Hospital Center in Los Angeles, California expressed in a solicitation letter for membership recruitment “…..we are working against great odds to bring practicing physicians the concept that there is a large and increasing body of specific information which can be used in the management and treatment of older individuals to improve their general health and specific discomforts.”


In a 1976 president’s report prepared by Dr. Ralph Goldman, the Western Division had agreed to take a major step and establish the division headquarters in Sun City, Arizona.  The Sun City office was placed under the administrative supervision of Dr. Haakon Band, staffed by volunteers (often the wives of officers), the Sun City Auxiliary, and eventually hired the society’s first part-time administrative secretary, Mrs. June Mart.  The Del Webb Corporation and particularly Boswell Hospital became instrumental partners in supporting the Society.


In 1977 a treasurer’s report indicated that The Del Webb Corporation had leased space to the Society for $137 per month and the hospital loaned furniture to the Society to begin operations.  Additionally the hospital offered printing and other administrative assistance as needed.  While the national organization continued to steadfastly hold to professional memberships, the Western Division had established an affiliate membership, and a benefactor membership for laypersons wishing to make contributions to the organization.  Sun City volunteers called “Friends of American Geriatrics” raised  funds with the Western Division to forward geriatric causes.  Because the national organization refused to accept “Friends” – a layperson organization - as an affiliate of the national society, Boswell Hospital Board Chairman, Jim Mead acted as the liaison between organizations and helped “Friends" to become incorporated as a non-profit fund raising group for geriatric advancement.


In 1979 it was decided to hold every other annual program in Sun City.  This would help to stabilize the Society, cut expenses for the large number of members in the Arizona area and reinforce to the Sun City community that the Society was committed to the location and it was sincere in forging a future in geriatric care in Arizona.  A room in the Annex of Boswell Hospital, was offered to the Society to use free of charge, which was readily accepted by the officers as a way to reduce expenses and firm up relations with Sun City.  In minutes of a 1979 meeting, a Dr. Hilliard indicated in his comments that, “it is strange that the membership in our Society is continuing to decrease and the problems of geriatrics are increasing….”  The comment would be reiterated many times over the upcoming years of growth in the Society.  In 1979, participants at an Executive Committee meeting discussed the need for government representation, and though all efforts focused on the annual meeting, a focus on legislative efforts was needed.  Europe was cited as the model for the “team” approach to geriatrics programs.  This year the Society was able to underwrite post-graduate education and Boswell Hospital backed the seminars with CME credits for the first time.  When Sun Health became involved with the AzGS, Madeleine Lutz, PhD began to play a greater role in the Society.  It was with her support and encouragement that many of the programs today were initiated and over the years she would take on active leadership positions ultimately rising to the first non-physician President of the Society in the late 1990’s.


During the 1980’s the Society continued to serve healthcare professionals following in the footsteps of the initial founding doctors.  Volunteer members and officers addressed issues surrounding geriatric care in 1988 when the First Annual Fall Conference was held.  Those involved at that time recall the conference to be small, but meaningful, and it laid the framework for the conference the Society continues to conduct on an annual basis.  In 1989 Articles of Incorporation were drawn to incorporate the Western Division as the Arizona Geriatrics Society (AzGS) as it came in line with other state affiliates of the American Geriatrics Society.   Much of the specific history of the 1980’s is missing as minutes of this era have been misplaced or destroyed as the leadership changed hands.  We do know that Mindy Fain, M.D. and Marlene Bluestein, M.D., both Tucson physicians, were instrumental in keeping the organization vital during the late 1980’s.  Various pieces of correspondence retained from these years indicate their dedication and commitment to working on projects that advanced the goals of the AzGS and helped grow the membership base.  John (Jack) Boyer, M.D. – University of Arizona School of Medicine and others assumed roles of leadership that continued for years.


In 1993 the AzGS began its formal peer-reviewed Journal, which continues to be published today.  Paul Rousseau, M.D. – Chief of Geriatrics at the Phoenix VA Medical Center was the first Editor.  As immediate Past President of the AzGS, he was honored that year as Geriatrician of the Year, which is our first recorded history of that award being given by the Society.  Dr. Rousseau played a significant role in developing the Society during the early 1990’s.  In 1994, retired physician Willis (Bill) Warner, M.D. accepted the role of Executive Director of the Society, replacing Sandy Andrews who had served previously, though our records do not indicate when Mr. Andrews became Executive Director, or if he was the first to play such a role.


In 1994, the late Joe Callen, M.D. assumed the Presidency of the AzGS.  Many past supporters and/or officers were listed on the Board of Directors, some of these included:  Doctors Gerrit Terpstra and Paul Rousseau.  Others included Madeleine Lutz, Mary Ann Zimmerman and Walt Nieri, M.D., who would rise to power over the upcoming years to further lead the organization to it’s position of success and excellence that we enjoy today.  That year a summer conference was held in Flagstaff at Little America as an adjunct to the Annual Fall Conference.  Patricia Kreitler, RN and Gail Kershner, MA, co-directed this effort.


In 1996, Ben Chaiken took over the role of Executive Director and was then serving the Society in a paid capacity for 10 hours per week.  Additionally the Society hired a part time secretary to process correspondence.  The needs of the AzGS were beginning to change.  The Annual Conference responsibility was assumed by Dr. Walter Nieri and the conference moved to the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel where it remained for the next 6 years.  Dr. Marlene Bluestein received the Geriatrician of the Year award.  As in years past, there were always individuals willing to assume roles of leadership in the way of serving as officers of the Society, however direct ascension to the Presidency did not necessarily occur from the Vice-Presidential position.  Leaders were often tapped from the membership and community at large; a strong and continuing Board was ever present as is reflected in the correspondence, Journal publications and minutes from past meetings.  In 1996, then Board President Robert Garcia, M.D. designated that one of the missions of the Society that year would be to strengthen and redefine the Society and to broaden its membership base to reflect a multi-disciplinary constituency, one that more reflected geriatric care in the community.  This vision, backed by a strong Executive Committee and Board of Directors began a new era for the AzGS and elevated the Society, as a state affiliate of the AGS, to a role of innovator.  While most state organizations were still focusing on physician memberships, the AzGS was branching out to bring in professionals of geriatric care in a number of disciplines.  This theme would be prominent for years to come and propel the AzGS to one of the AGS top affiliates by the year 2000.  In 1997, Walter Nieri, M.D. took over the helm and Madeleine Lutz moved to Vice-President.  Their joint leadership and Sun Health’s total commitment to the Society saw gains in membership, conference attendance, which had now become prominent nationally, and in our role as state affiliate of the AGS.  The Society was now addressing elder care issues for a number of disciplines.  Education took on a new priority, as did looking at various models of care.  Sun Health supported activities at record levels including the ongoing office space, equipment and auxiliary staff on an as needed basis.  1998 saw Madeleine Lutz, Ph.D. named Gerontologist of the Year and Jerome Kastrul, M.D. named Geriatrician of the Year.  At the Fall Conference Madeleine was elected President of the Society – the first non-physician to ever hold this position and a testament that the AzGS had indeed become a multi-disciplinary organization of elder care professionals.  Newcomer to the Society, William (Bill) Weese, M.D. assumed the position of President Elect.  He would have two years to learn the Society and it’s rolls before advancing to the Presidency in 2000.  Madeleine, after over a decade of supporting the Society, nurturing it, and providing resources beyond anyone’s expectations marked her presidency by moving the Society from a volunteer organization with minimal paid clerical support to a business and self-contained entity able to sustain itself financially.  During her first year in office, Janet Lee-Levinson, MBA/HSM, was hired as a part-time (20 hours weekly) Executive Director and was given the charter to turn the organization into a functioning business entity.  Working with Madeleine, Janet was able to computerize systems, develop databases, initiate a website, create online registration for conferences and membership renewals, develop new marketing media and hire staff to meet the needs of a growing and dynamic professional organization.  With the total integration of the organization, the Society was able to take on more coordination responsibilities and expand program outreach in virtually all areas throughout the organization while partnering with outside organizations to work on mutually beneficial projects.


The year 2000 moved Bill Weese, M.D., into the Presidency.  Mary Ann Zimmerman, who had served on the Executive Committee as Secretary for many years, moved into the position of President Elect.  New physician to Arizona, Kevin Jackson, M.D. took over the secretary position.  Walt Nieri was now in his 4th year as conference Director (a role that would continue into the 2000’s) and showed that an annual conference could bring in enough revenue to sustain the organization’s need for revenue to pay staff and fund programs.  Dr. Weese presented a platform at his induction to develop a program for elder drivers in the State of Arizona.  Over the next two years a program would be developed in cooperation with a number of outside agencies and organizations.  As Dr. Weese’s term ended, the Elder Driving Centers were close to becoming a reality.  Dr. Kevin Jackson initiated a series of Round Table dinner meetings that added value to members and offered venues for members to meet and network which became very popular and an asset to the Society.  Additionally, he restarted the Northern Arizona educational conference that drew rural practitioners not previously addressed by the Society.  Dr. Jackson, a Canadian who had seen medicine delivery systems from both countries relished the free enterprise system and helped the Society realize a number of new programs that served physicians and care professionals through partnerships with pharmaceutical and healthcare service companies.


The year 2003 would bring in a new President, Mary Ann Zimmerman and a new Executive Director, Bonnie L. Howard, MBA, MHA.  In 2003 the Spring Conference was held in Sedona and the Fall Conference was held at the Raddison Resort in Scottsdale with the new leadership of Conference Chairman, Dr. Luis L. Gonzalez, Jr.  The Journal was significantly improved under editor Dr. Mindy Fain.


In 2004, due to Sun Health changes, the office was relocated more centrally in Phoenix at 5020 N. 8th Place, Suite C.  The website was overhauled and a new project coordinator was added.  With the help of interns from ASU West’s Gerontology program, the 2004 Fall Conference was held at the Embassy Suites at Stonecreek in Phoenix.  Also in 2004 was a re-launch of the Arizona Medical Directors Association, and an agreement to share resources with AZGS.


Dr. William Arnold took over as President for a two-year term beginning in 2005.  In 2005 we held a summer Technology Conference and the 17th Annual Fall Conference.  In addition, a membership portal on the website was launched that includes technology upgrades with the goal to raise awareness of the Society in the Arizona aging community.

Donna Lee Seawards, CAE, CNAP is the current Executive Director of AzGS, replacing Trudy Kiesewetter, who retired at the end of 2015.  The Board of Directors convenes the annual meeting of the membership at the Fall Symposium.  The various committees of the Board meet at regular intervals throughout the year to oversee finances, develop programs for the three annual conferences, increase membership and educational opportunities and produce two issues of the Journal.  

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