Dr. Philip Adler always stood up for what he believed was best for his patients, even if his opinions didn’t always sit well with his clinical colleagues.
He passed away Nov. 2 at age 92 after treating three generations of Tampa Bay children. As a pediatrician in Tampa, Dr. Adler continued to see patients well into his 80s before retiring. He was known for his prominent role in desegregating hospital care in Tampa Bay.
In 1964, Dr. Adler convinced Tampa General Hospital — the region’s largest public hospital at the time, and reserved for whites — to allow sick black newborns from Clara Frye Memorial Hospital in Ybor City to be transferred into its new prenatal nursery.
It would take three years for Tampa General to fully integrate, but pressure from Dr. Adler changed the hospital’s mission. It would come to be known for serving Florida’s poor and diverse communities.
In his private practice, too, Dr. Adler built a reputation for treating patients regardless of their ability to pay or where they came from, said Dr. John Curran, a pediatrician who retired from the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in 2017 after 45 years.
“Over the years, Phil was always an outspoken advocate for something,” Curran said. “He didn’t always have the love of his brethren pediatricians, but he always had their respect. Whatever he did, he was certain about it.”
Born in New Britain, Conn., in 1927, Dr. Adler grew up watching a pediatrician care for his sick brother. He served in World War II, and later went to the University of Vermont for medical school. He did his residency at Beth Israel and Boston Children’s Hospital, and landed a fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit before taking a job with a private practice in Tampa in 1958.
When he got the Tampa offer, Dr. Adler visited the practice and saw that it was segregated. His son, Josh Adler, said his father said he would accept the job if they desegregated the clinic. They did, and he accepted.
Dr. Adler instilled those values in his four children, his son said.
“He didn’t care the color of your skin or your religion or your socioeconomic status,” Josh Adler said. “That’s who he was. ... All he cares about at the end of the day is the kids. Anything that gets in the way of the kids and the health was a problem.”
Dr. Adler started his own pediatrics practice in Tampa, across the street from the original St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he also held many chief administrative titles over the years. The practice became a referral center for “unfunded children” who were discharged from the hospital’s emergency department because no one else would treat them.
In 1985, he founded "The Children’s Doctor,” a clinic designed for working mothers that was open on the weekends and into the evening hours.
Over the years, Dr. Adler was quoted in the New York Times, and locally in St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune articles as an advocate for childhood immunizations and new surgical procedures. In the 1970s, he became heavily involved in the development of two new hospitals: St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital and later St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, where he practiced for decades.
Dr. Daniel Plasencia, medical director of St. Joesph’s Children’s Hospital, first met Dr. Adler when he moved to Tampa in 1982.
“I remember covering for him when he was out of town once, and his patients loved him,” he said. “He did have a strong personality and was especially passionate about immunizations.”
Plasencia said Dr. Adler was influential in bringing new pediatric specialties to Tampa at a time when there was a dire need for it.
“Until the day he retired, he was always in the middle of what was going on, from the quality of the neonatal unit to the physicians who practiced here,” Plasencia said. “He was knocking down doors to beef up services.”
Dr. Adler also was active in other ways around Tampa Bay, including as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and part of the Congregation Schaarai Zedek. He was a founding trustee of the Tampa Preparatory School.
Richard Blau, an attorney with Gray Robinson in Tampa, was a patient of Dr. Adler’s since he was an infant. Even after he aged out of pediatrics, Dr. Adler continued to treat him as his primary care physician.
“I met my wife, who was interning at his practice as pediatric nurse,” Blau said. "He was the godfather of our three children. He was just a remarkable professional, and I’m a better, healthier man having known him.”
Dr. Philip Adler
Born: Feb. 18, 1927
Died: Nov. 2, 2019
Survivors: Former wife Aliza Adler; their son Joshua (Pamela) Adler; their daughters Tamara (John) Lundgren and Rachel (John) Simpson; son Asa’s widow, Renee Adler; grandchildren Audrey Adler, Brice Adler, Colin Adler, John Simpson and Schuyler Simpson.
Service: A memorial will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, 3303 W Swann Ave., Tampa.