“He Loves to Fight for all the Little Guys”
(Plain Press, September 2020) After 30 years as a MetroHealth doctor, and a number of years before that serving as a community organizer, Doug Van Auken is set to retire. Doug Van Auken’s mission in life was perhaps best captured in that headline from a 1984 Plain Dealer profile, “He Loves to Fight for all the Little Guys.”
His lifetime of fighting for social justice began as a high school student when he volunteered to picket grocery and other stores on behalf of a national grape boycott organized by the fledgling United Farm Workers Union (UFW).
In 1976, after he graduated from Ohio University, both Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude, with a B.A. in Government he joined the organizing staff of the United Farm Workers Union and worked in both in New York City and San Francisco.
He returned to Cleveland to work as a community organizer for the Collinwood Community Congress (CCC), a community organization working in both north and south Collinwood.
Shortly thereafter, the Executive Director of Citizens to Bring Broadway Back (CBBB) “stole” Doug from CCC to work in the North Broadway neighborhood, organizing block clubs and building lasting relationships with the residents. Doug became Executive Director, where he made many important contributions to protecting the neighborhood. These included a Community Reinvestment Act challenge against National City Bank for redlining in Cleveland, where he combined his commitments to Broadway and the UFW with a successful campaign to prevent the large bank from gobbling up a small community bank in the heart of farmworker country in Northwest Ohio.
Doug left CBBB and joined the staff of the West Side Community House where he was again involved in neighborhood issues and worked closely with Low Income People Together, a welfare rights organization. While at the West Side Community House, Doug staffed a coalition of organizations working to establish emergency housing for the mentally ill. Bridgeway, then known as the West Side Community Mental Health Center, established such a program.
During Doug’s time at the West Side Community House there were many articles in the Plain Press about Low Income People Together and efforts of its members to improve programs and services to the poor. During this time period, Doug was also involved with the efforts of groups such as the Emergency Shelter Coalition and Citizens for a Fair Budget.
In 1984, he joined a Witness for Peace delegation and traveled to Nicaragua to oppose a secret war being supported by the U.S. Government. This was followed by a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress to cut off funding for the Reagan- backed “contras”.
In 1987, Doug was one of the organizers of Citizens to Save Our Metro Health which successfully blocked a proposal to convert the MetroHealth Medical System from a public hospital to a private hospital. Citizens to Save Our Metro Health worked out of Merrick House. Gail Long, who served as Merrick House’s executive director at the time, recalls Doug was real-focused and a good organizer. “He kept us going, strategized. He didn’t let us forget what our mission was,” said Long. Today the hospital is one of the largest, and most respected public hospitals in the United States.
In the mid-80s Doug enrolled as a Pre-Med student at Cleveland State University, attending night classes, to prepare for gaining admission to the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He quickly distinguished himself as a leader and was awarded The Sue Rubenstein Prize; awarded to 4th year students showing significant involvement in meeting social needs through medicine. He graduated with his M.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1990. He performed his residency at the MetroHealth Medical Center, Department of Family Practice.
This led to a 30-year career as a family medicine doctor with the MetroHealth System, nearly all of that time was spent providing care at the former McCafferty Health Center on the City’s Near West Side – helping to open the family medicine program at the Thomas J. McCafferty Health Center.
Doug is fluent in Spanish and initiated the first MetroHealth collaboration with the Hispanic Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug. Abuse Outreach Program (HUMADAOP) serving as their medical director. He also served on the board of Nueva Luz Urban Outreach Program and was active with the Hispanic Senior Center. He was a founding board member of the Jeffrey D. Heard Center a drop-in program and nighttime shelter for persons with HIV in 1998 that primarily served persons of color.
Doug is a committed teacher and is an Assistant Professor, Family Practice at the Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, and has been on the faculty of the MetroHealth Infectious Disease (HIV) Clinic since 1990. He has precepted dozens of medical students over the course of his career at MetroHealth.
In 1988 Doug organized the largest hearing in the state on LGBT discrimination in Ohio seven years after Governor Richard Celeste had issued an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment. In 1990 he was appointed to the State of Ohio’s Advisory Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues. In 1993 he was elected President of the Northern Ohio Physicians for Human Rights, the Cleveland chapter of the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights. The organization provided LGBT health care referrals, HIV and AIDS education, advocacy, and public education at a time when few LGBT health care providers were willing to be out of the closet. He was a hotline volunteer and a board member of the Cleveland LGBT Center in the 1990s.
Doug Van Auken was the founding Physician of the Federacion Dominicana de Organizaciones Populares, a sponsored medical clinic in the Dominican Republic. Over 100 CWRU medical, dental, nursing and other students rotated through the clinic and gained medical experience between 1995-2012. In 2007, he was a founding physician of MetroHealth’s Pride Clinic – an LGBTQ focused clinic. It was the first hospital-based LGBTQ focused clinic in the United States. For nearly 25 years, 1989 to 2013, he organized an annual LGBT lecture for medical students at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He now leads the MetroHealth Pride Clinic at Cleveland’s LGBT Community Center.
Doug has been honored with a number of awards over the years. He was honored by West Side Community House in 1985. In 2001 he received the Voice Against Silence Award from the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland. In 2003 he received the distinguished Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. In 2012 he was awarded the LGBT Heritage Award for Health Care by the City of Cleveland. In 2018 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, Saul Ramos Award from Nueva Luz.
He is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. He has provided countless presentations for these groups and other in Greater Cleveland, in Ohio, and across the country.
Doug is also devoted to his family; helping take care of his late mother Lois and father Robert. He is the proud father of Andy Van Auken and married to John Corlett. He is never one to forget a birthday and is always shipping packages off to relatives and friends. He is kind and generous and provides financial support to scores of organizations and individuals that “fight for all the little guys.”