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The former APTA vice president helped lead the way in the establishment of autonomous physical therapist practice in Maryland. 

Ernest A. Burch Jr., PT, FAPTA, considered a pioneer in physical therapy, died April 28 at age 91.

Originally from Swedesboro, New Jersey, Burch received his undergraduate degree from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in 1950. He began his career in physical therapy after serving time in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and then completing his PT education in 1956 from the University of Pennsylvania on a G.I. bill that paid his tuition.

He spent 10 years as chief therapist at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore before leaving to open a private practice, Burch, Rhoads & Loomis, focusing on orthopedic and home health services. The practice eventually expanded to 10 offices. While at Union Memorial, Burch spent an afternoon each week observing Henry O. and Florence P. Kendall perform muscle testing and posture analysis with nurses at Johns Hopkins.

As successful as Burch’s career was, he was equally well-known for the depth and breadth of his service to APTA. Notably, he and Florence Kendall helped push for autonomous practice legislation in Maryland in the 1970s. Among the long list of positions Burch held are APTA vice president, chair of the APTA Nominating Committee, secretary and then president of the Maryland Chapter, president of the Private Practice Section, and chair of the Maryland State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners. He was named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow, APTA’s highest member category, and he earned several awards, including APTA’s Lucy Blair Service Award and the Private Practice Section’s Robert G. Dicus Award.

"Ernie was a stalwart for physical therapy advocacy," said APTA CEO Justin Moore, PT, DPT. "In one of my first presentations for APTA more than 20 years ago, I was at a chapter meeting being drilled with questions about direct access, referral for profit, and incident-to billing. After 30 minutes, Ernie stood up and said if everyone in the room was as aggressive on Capitol Hill as in the conference room we’d have solved those problems already. The crowd applauded and my presentation was over. I hadn’t met Ernie yet, but he supported me and I never forgot that. Over the years I got to know him a bit better. He was a gem and a gentleman. APTA is fortunate for having had his leadership."

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