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The Legacy of Dr. Rodney C. Jung
New Orleans owes a lot to this medical expert.
Dr. Rodney C. Jung defined modern day public health for New Orleans. His substantial legacies range from our world-renowned mosquito control commission to the “Jung diapers” still worn by the mules pulling the carriages in the French Quarter.
Jung died on Oct. 11, 2013, at age 93. He is survived by his wife Carol Jung and brother Fredrick Jung. His intellect was driven by a wide range of acutely focused interests that fueled his amazing career as a scientist, a physician and a citizen.
Shortly before Mayor Victor Schiro’s 1962 election, national media proclaimed New Orleans the “VD Capital of the United States.” Business leaders feared the title might adversely affect the established port, discourage new businesses from coming to town and even cripple what was then a budding tourism industry.
Schiro turned to the medical community for help. In an astounding display of solidarity, the Orleans Parish Medical Society, Tulane Medical School and LSU Medical School all agreed that he needed to hire a 42-year-old knight on a white horse: Dr. Rodney C. Jung. City Hall cub reporter Iris Kelso dubbed Schiro’s action as the “Best City Appointment of the Year” in her City Hall Report summing up the good and the bad of 1963 local politics.
“New Orleans is backward in many respects as far as health is concerned as evidenced by the venereal disease statistics,” Jung said in a newspaper article soon after his appointment in March 1963. He blamed the city’s poor health status in general on the lack of effective planning and information flow from the city health department.
Jung wasted no time organizing a more effective program to address syphilis and gonorrhea. He implemented expanded reporting, outreach and educational efforts. He initiated a testing and treatment program at Orleans Parish Prison. Dr. Frank Gomila, an underfunded venereologist, was directing the treatment of 70 to 80 patients a day in the city’s VD Clinic, a former two-story drugstore, which had only one bathroom and fire code violations dating back to 1958. The examination rooms were described as broom closets with hanging sheets taking the place of doors.
Within months Jung found a larger and more suitable space for the clinic. He personally drew plans for the new space to optimize patient flow. The new clinic opened to great fanfare with the police band playing and a prayer from Father Peter Rogers, the longtime police and fire chaplain.
All these efforts yielded quick dividends. After being No. 1 then No. 2 for syphilis, New Orleans fell to No. 6 and then plummeted to No. 17 under Jung’s strong and dynamic leadership.
“Community education against venereal disease isn’t effective in an unreal, hush-hush atmosphere. In good measure New Orleans’ improvement is a result of open and frank admission of the problem,” lauded the afternoon newspaper in an editorial. Such publicity also bred controversy. Aaron Kohn and the Metropolitan Crime Commission charged Gomila with treating “undesirables” in violation of the city’s code of ethics for public officials, but The Board of Health and the Orleans Medical Society weighed in supporting him.
Mosquito control was another problem confronting an expanding New Orleans. “Hungry hoards of marsh mosquitoes will continue to plague the New Orleans area,” said an early July 1963 newspaper article about the third major invasion in the previous four years. Jung established a mosquito study committee that pounded out a plan within weeks. He lobbied Hale Boggs, who introduced legislation providing matching funds to states for mosquito control. This was the stimulus for city seed money that Jung used to recruit George Carmichael from a mosquito control position in Georgia. Carmichael became the first director of the city’s Mosquito Control Board in ’64.
“Shortly after the mosquito commission began, New Orleans had back to back outbreaks of St. Louis encephalitis,” said Edgar Bordes, Carmichael’s successor. “Jung, with his parasitology background, and Carmichael, with his vector control expertise, were the dream team. New Orleans East would never had developed without mosquito control,’’ As a trade publication put it: “New Orleans buzzes because mosquitoes don’t.”
Once, Jung ordered the city hall cafeteria closed for a day until all utensils were properly washed, though he did allow them to keep selling coffee as long as it was in paper cups. One week later he gave the Public Grain Elevator of New Orleans 30 days to institute a pest control problem by eliminating rat harborage and breeding areas around their facility.
His experiences during Hurricane Betsy made Jung a firm believer in disaster planning, communications and well organized pre-hospital care of the ill and injured. Dr. Julius Levy, another city physician with impeccable community service credentials, recalled how ham radio operators were the only source of communication for the shelters set up after Betsy for the first few days.
“Years ago police chief Clarence Giarrusso asked Rodney and me to go through the police academy to be volunteer police officers back when the police still drove crash trucks,” said Levy. “He asked us to supervise the medical aspects. We both became commissioned officers.”
“I remember Dr. Jung as a very dedicated and involved physician,” said Dr. Jay Shames, who knew Jung through his later hospital work at Touro Infirmary. Shames added that Dr. Jung also once served as the student health physician for Tulane medical physicians, a tough position if there ever were one.
A Man of Many Talents
All the hats Dr. Rodney Jung wore at one time or another could fill a warehouse. Rodney lived in Algiers as a child. He attended Tulane both as an undergraduate and as a medical student. He developed an early interest in entomology and knew the scientific name of about every insect that crawled or flew these parts.
He was commissioned as a navy medical officer on the same day he graduated from medical school in 1945. He returned to Tulane after military service, picked up a Ph.D. and stayed on as a faculty member in tropical medicine and parasitology writing books and papers with the giants of parasitology who put Tulane on the world’s public health map.
As a young physician he did definitive fieldwork in Panama, left, on intestinal parasites that migrated to the lungs and liver. The wife of the president of Panama recruited Jung and several other physicians to visit a remote area accessible only by dugout canoe. The villagers had never before even seen a physician and housed the group in their newest building, a jail emptied of prisoners in their honor.