Florence R. Sabin, M.D. (1871-1953)

Part Three — 1946-1949

1946 — Dr.Sabin Asks Coloradans to Contact their Legislators

Florence Sabin Dr. Florence Sabin took her case for healthcare directly to the public in a six-page booklet: Basic Health Needs of Colorado, Summarized from the Recommendations of Dr. Florence Sabin and her State Health Committee, Based on the Survey by Dr. Carl Buck, Field Director of the American Public Health Association,

"Many of the following health needs of Colorado require legislative action . . . . The bills for their achievement are being formulated and will be introduced in the coming session of the legislature.

Study the bills when they are publicized, and let your legislators know that you want laws embracing the important points incorporated in these bills as introduced. Do not let them be 'pressured' into accepting amendments which will make the bills worse than useless. Doctor Sabin and her health committee are relying on the people of Colorado and their legislature to make possible a fine health future for Colorado."

1946 — The Polio Epidemic

There were about 900 cases of polio in Colorado in 1946. The Colorado State Fair in Pueblo did not permit children under 18 to attend because of the epidemic.

303 polio patients were treated at the University of Colorado's Colorado General Hospital in 1946. So many needed Drinker tank respirators ("iron lungs") that only adults were treated at Colorado General for a while — children were sent to Children's Hospital. Colorado General even converted a student gym for use as a ward.

The epidemic was not confined to the Denver area. The Larimer County Board of Health, for example, warned county residents about the polio epidemic and recommended that children under 18 be kept away from public gatherings and that the opening of school be delayed at least until mid-September.

The polio epidemic in Colorado reinforced the concerns that Dr. Florence Sabin had been talking about, and women in particular put strong pressure on their state legislators to pass the Sabin health laws.

1947 — The Sabin Health Laws

The "Sabin Health Laws" passed by the Colorado General Assembly thoroughly modernized Colorado's public health system. Dr. Sabin had proposed eight separate pieces of legislation: five bills establishing and funding health services, and three bills for the control of specific diseases. All but one was passed by the Colorado legislature in 1947. The "cow health bill" aimed at controlling brucellosis in cattle was defeated.

In October 1947, Dr. Sabin published "The People Win for Public Health in Colorado" in the American Journal of Public Health, describing her dinner meetings and other efforts during 1946 to reform public health. We quoted her opening words on the first page of this section, but her speech is still worth reading in its entirety.

1948 — The Effects of Public Health Reform

The effects of the Sabin Health Laws passed in 1947 began to be evident in 1948. The Colorado State Health Department was reorganized, had better-qualified personnel, and received a budget that was appropriate for its new mandates. The Sabin laws increased the number of counties that received the services of health departments from four to eighteen (some were multi-county departments). Lab services were offered to physicians, dentists, and public health officials at no charge.

The State Health Department emphasized immunization against diphtheria and smallpox, and worked to reduce the death rate from whooping cough and measles. County health departments now received assistance from the state department.

New regulations covered the production and processing of milk and other dairy products. Pasteurization of all milk and milk products for human consumption was mandatory beginning on June 1, 1949.

The state began an exhaustive study of stream pollution, with an eye to setting appropriate standards for sewage treatment. New codes were adopted for water supplies and plumbing to make sure that Coloradans had safe drinking water.

Early in 1948, twenty-two labs around the state were approved for premarital and prenatal testing. New prenatal and postnatal clinics were established in four communities, and eleven other communities strengthened theirs.

Every restaurant in Colorado was inspected during 1948 either by a state or local public health official.

1949 — Expansion of the Sabin Health Laws

The Colorado legislature added to the Sabin Health Laws that had been enacted in 1947. New laws limited the fat content in hamburger and prohibited the use of coloring in any fresh meat; specified how flour should be enriched; and gave the State Health Department licensing authority over plants that handled fluid milk for human consumption.

The Colorado State Health Department began a migrant workers health program by establishing a clinic at the Fort Lupton migrant labor camp.

Photograph: Dr. Florence Sabin speaking on January 23, 1949, at Hobart and William Smith College, after receiving the Elizabeth Blackwell Centennial Award.

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