Ernest Ruiz founded HCMC’s emergency care practice — one of the country’s first — and helped create a new field of medicine.
Ruiz, a Richfield resident and HCMC’s chief of emergency medicine for 21 years, died Nov. 5 at age 89. He was also an emeritus professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota, a department he was instrumental in creating.
“He was one of a handful of leaders who really led the development of the specialty of emergency medicine across the country,” said Dr. James Miner, current chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin Healthcare.
Ruiz was born and raised in the Los Angeles area by blue-collar parents. After high school, he enlisted in the Army and fought in the Korean War. Hit with shrapnel at the bloody Battle on Pork Chop Hill, Ruiz was awarded the Purple Heart.
“He was severely injured, but not enough to keep him out of med school,” said Bernice Ruiz, his wife of nearly 60 years.
Ruiz got his bachelor’s and medical degrees at Stanford University in California. In 1962, he came to Minnesota for an internship at Minneapolis General Hospital (the precursor to HCMC). He was a general surgeon in 1971 when he was asked to head the emergency room.
Ruiz took the job but on the condition that the ER — then a wing of surgery — become its own department. “He recognized that the ER was ill equipped, poorly staffed and underfunded,” said Dr. Doug Brunette, an emergency medicine doctor at Hennepin Healthcare.
At the time, emergency medicine was a rather scattershot affair.
“What Dr. Ruiz realized was that when patients came in, there was really no organized approach to how they were taken care of. They were just shuttled around the hospital,” said Patrick Lilja, who worked for Ruiz at HCMC and later became head of emergency medicine at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale.
Lilja was one of the first two participants in a residency program that Ruiz set up at HCMC in the early 1970s. Brunette went through the program in the 1980s with Ruiz as his teacher. “There was nothing more that Ernie liked than to teach medical students about the practice of emergency medicine,” Brunette said.
Ruiz was also known for his innovations in emergency medicine.
“He was a very inventive guy,” Lilja said.
In the early days, he took a seldom-used ambulance donated by the Lions Club and outfitted it with the proper equipment to serve as a mobile coronary-care unit.
After a passenger plane nearly crashed in the early 1970s at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Ruiz realized that the metro area lacked a coordinated response to civil emergencies. He got on the phone to other hospitals and civil defense authorities, leading the effort for systems that would improve communications and train paramedics, Lilja said.
A tinkerer, Ruiz came up with inventions that improved care in the ER, doctors said. And he was long the co-editor of a textbook that was “kind of the bible of emergency medicine,” Lilja said.
Ruiz stepped down as HCMC’s chief of emergency medicine in 1992 and retired in 1999 but continued to work at the U.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children, James Ruiz, Chris Ruiz, Anthony Ruiz and Sarah Rakhmanov; two siblings, Richard Ruiz and Lillian Ruiz, and three grandchildren.