A surgeon, Grossman came to his specialty in a shocking way. In 1958, while still a resident fresh out of medical school, Dr. Grossman was working at the emergency room at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital when there was a fire at Our Lady of Angels parochial school. In all, 92 children and three nuns were killed by the fire, and that haunted him. In 1969, Grossman was hired by a brand new hospital being built in Sherman Oaks, Calif.; he convinced the hospital to dedicate two beds to burn patients — a burn unit. By 1978 the unit was moved to its own building, expanded to 30 beds, and was one of the top burn centers in the world, with Grossman spending full time studying ways to better care for burn victims, and applying that knowledge to his patients.
In 2010, the center, renamed The Grossman Burn Center, moved to a larger facility in the West Hills section of Los Angeles, and expanded to Bakersfield, Calif., Kansas City, Mo., and Phoenix, Ariz. Before Grossman, the mission of burn care was to save the patients’ lives. Grossman wanted to go further: “not to just ensure survival, but to restore patients to as close to their pre-injury condition as possible, functionally, emotionally and cosmetically,” the Center says. Indeed, Grossman “could write a book on bedside manner,” said psychologist Jonathan Simons, who has worked as a counselor at the burn center. “He had a wonderful bedside manner,” agreed retired firefighter Bill Jenson, who was burned over 70 percent of his body while fighting a fire. “When you were laying in bed, instead of standing above you and talking to you, he’d get down on his knees and talk to you eye level. He repaired the body more on the inside of mind and heart than he could ever do on the outside.” But there was a price: Dr. Grossman was a workaholic, and his first three marriages led to divorce. He retired in 2013, leaving his son, Dr. Peter H. Grossman, as the burn center’s medical director. Dr. Richard Grossman died March 13, at 81.