Remember when: Russellton Medical Group took care of miners’ health

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Health care, especially for middle-class families, is a given for the most part these days, either by employers or government agencies.

But it has not always been so.

In the 1950s, the Russellton Medical Group stepped up its efforts to provide care for many families in the Alle-Kiski Valley who could not afford health care or who had never taken accustomed to receiving regular check-ups and preventive care.

Many residents will remember how their immigrant parents or grandparents relied on home remedies brought over from the “old country.”

That all changed in 1952. Around this time, a Dr. Reynolds resigned from his position as a mine doctor at the Republic Steel Co. in the Russellton community of West Deer to go into private practice.

Also, the Curtisville mines in West Deer were about to close.

This meant a difficult situation for coal miners who were accustomed to the medical care spelled out in United Mine Workers contracts.

To avert a medical crisis, union officials teamed up with several young doctors and their families drawn to the Russellton area.


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The collaboration resulted in the Russellton Medical Group becoming a member of the Miners Clinics, created as a result of UMW’s welfare and retirement fund.

A group of miners traveled to Pittsburgh to consult with Dr. Leslie Falk about establishing community clinics. Dr. Thompson Ferrier came to Russellton from Canada specifically to be part of the group practice. Falk then created the Russellton Medical Group under the sponsorship of the nonprofit Miners Clinics Inc.

In February 1953, the Russellton Community Clinic opened on the second floor of a then-hardware store along Little Deer Creek Valley Road with two general practitioners and an internist.

For the first time, miners and their families in geographically isolated towns had access to medical care. The service took off and soon the families of non-miners, like those of United Steelworkers, and others were benefiting from the clinics.

The group expanded to Apollo, New Kensington and the Acmetonia section of Harmar.

When Dr. Daniel Fine and his wife, Anita, moved to New Kensington from New York in 1957, Fine recruited a number of physicians to join clinical practice. The problem was that many doctors were not allowed on staff at Citizens General Hospital.

Miners staged a large protest along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington in 1957. Ultimately, doctors at the clinic were granted hospital privileges, according to research by Washington County reporter Bette McDevitt.

The crown jewel of the Russellton Medical Group was a stately building along Powers Drive in New Kensington as the clinic continued to expand its service to non-mining employees.

By the 1970s, oil had replaced coal as the dominant form of energy in the United States, forcing many mines to close. Other facilities were simply exhausted.

A fee-for-service plan was introduced in 1977.

On April 30, 1991, miners’ clinics lost a major legal battle with the National Labor Relations Board as health maintenance organizations rose to prominence.

The building on Powers Drive has been dismantled and is now the site of private apartments.

The Russellton Medical Group was acquired by UPMC in 2007 and still has clinics at the UPMC Center on Burtner Road in Natrona Heights, Harrison and at the Alexander Athletic Club building in Harmar.

George Guido is a contributing writer for Tribune-Review.

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