The Union Democrat

Dr. Eric Runte dies unexpected­ly at 59

Sonora doctor was known for empathy, commitment to the health of patients

- By GIUSEPPE RICAPITO The Union Democrat

Dr. Eric Runte, a prodigious Sonora doctor and medical director at the Tuolumne Me-wuk Indian Health Center known for his benevolent approach to functional medicine, died Saturday at a property he owned with his wife, Carlene Maggio, on Old Wards Ferry Road.

Runte was 59 years old.

“He was a great husband, father, son, friend and always full of life,” she said. “He loved people unconditio­nally, whether they were kings and queens or homeless people. He had the warmest heart.”

A cause of death has not been determined at this time, Maggio said.

Runte was setting up an irrigation system for fruit trees on the property, which the couple planned to develop into their retirement home. He was found unconsciou­s there one Saturday and could not be revived.

His colleagues in the medical field characteri­zed him as naturally empathetic, dedicated to his patients and a pioneering local example of functional medicine, a holistic practice intended to make the patient population healthier.

“I was considerin­g the fact that

physicians often have to get trained how to listen, understand and have empathy for their patients,” said Dr. Todd Stolp, former Tuolumne County health officer. “Then there are those that seem to have that as a natural talent. Eric was one of those. He had skills and a true interest in the health of his patients. It wasn’t something that had to be trained, it was really part of his character.”

Dr. Ken Renwick, also a former Tuolumne County health officer, met Runte in the 1990s while they were working at the nowclosed Tuolumne General Hospital in Sonora. He said Runte was a pivotal actor in retaining family practices under a primary care doctrine, often being open to alternativ­e medicinal approaches and holistic treatments to ensure ongoing health.

Renwick recalled that Runte, an avid yogi himself, taught yoga through his practice as a way for patients to manage stress.

“Eric had very strong feelings about the importance of being committed to public health and primary care,” Renwick said. “He would take care of whole families, and he was quite dedicated to that and looking for better ways of enhancing the wellness of those families.”

Runte was born on July 20, 1961, in Milwaukee and moved to Santa Clara with his family when he was 7 years old. He attended St. Francis High School in Mountain View — it’s where he and Maggio met, she said — though they didn’t begin dating until they were 18 and attending San Diego State University.

Runte graduated with a degree in biology, received his medical degree from the University of California, Davis, and did his residency at Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura.

The couple married in 1988 when they were both 26 years old.

They moved to Sonora in 1994 after his residency was completed, Maggio said, and he took his first job as director of the primary care center at Tuolumne General Hospital.

Dr. Matt Nesper, who has worked in medicine for 40 years and started as a colleague of Runte’s before growing into a friend, said it was around this time that Runte notably stood up for family practice doctors with the American Academy of Family Practice to perform C-section deliveries.

“He was the guy that was standing up to the system,” Nesper said.

According to a legal document found online and attributed to the United States Ninth District Court of Appeals, Runte did not prevail in his campaign, though Nesper said he did earn some measure of national acclaim for the attempt.

“I’ve never met a physician in my 40 years of practice that was so dedicated to his patients and to innovation in his practice,” Nesper said. “He was constantly working on new programs for patients.”

Stolp also recalled that Runte joined in with a group of family practition­ers that included Dr. Warren Borgquist, Dr. Chuck Waldman and Dr. Ed Clinite, who occasional­ly met for breakfast in Jamestown to discuss deliveries and primary care when it was being largely outmoded in the place of managed care.

“Eric was certainly one of those who was just naturally motivated to do what he could for his parents in that way,” Stolp said.

When the primary care center closed, Runte did a short stint with the MACT Clinic before founding a private practice in 2002. His first office was on Stockton Road before he moved it to its long-term site on Shepherd Street.

“When he was there, he always worked one day a week at what I think of as safety clinics to see lowincome and Medi-cal patients,” Maggio said.

The Tuolumne Me-wuk Indian Health Center was

one of those places.

Runte took over as interim medical director there at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and slowly moved over patients to that facility. He took over as full-time director in January 2021.

“He was absolutely integral and essential in revamping their health care system,” Nesper said. “Tragically, he was right in the middle of this endeavor.”

Sonora City Councilwom­an Colette Such worked with Runte and his patients at Tuolumne General as director of cardiopulm­onary and cardiac rehab, and she later became his patient when the hospital closed.

“He didn’t give you a pill, he gave you a lifestyle, if you were interested,” she said.

Such further described him as “a champion of everyone’s right to good health care.”

“He always incorporat­ed the groups that were often sidelined and never abandoned them,” she said. “He never abandoned that quest to provide that health care.”

The Union Democrat interviewe­d Runte in January 2021 during the initial push to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in Tuolumne County.

“The folks that are coming through today are extremely happy to get their vaccines,” he said. “Not only do people here need to double up on their efforts to get their masks and distancing, we need to distribute as many vaccines as possible to get ahead of the curve.”

Runte’s hobbies were athletic and outdoorsy. He was an avid disc golfer, snowboarde­r, surfer and hiked the John Muir trail annually.

He is survived by his wife and three children Jackson Runte, born in 1991, Abby Runte, born in 1993, and Gabe Runte, born in 1995.

The family is planning for a public celebratio­n of life at Indigeny Reserve in Sonora on July 24.

 ?? Name / Union Democrat ?? Dr. Eric Runte
Name / Union Democrat Dr. Eric Runte
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 ?? Courtesy photos
/ Jackson Runte ?? Dr. Eric Runte (left photo, center) is survived by his family (from left) including son Jackson, wife Carlene Maggio, daughter Abby and son, Gabe. Runte is pictured above with his wife.
Courtesy photos / Jackson Runte Dr. Eric Runte (left photo, center) is survived by his family (from left) including son Jackson, wife Carlene Maggio, daughter Abby and son, Gabe. Runte is pictured above with his wife.

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