Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Kaiser Shipyards and Hospital

posted on September 18, 2014

Lincoln Cushing,
Heritage writer

 
It’s not every day a first lady visits a Kaiser facility, but it happened in the middle of World War II – and she visited two.

Henry J. Kaiser and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at launching of the U.S.S. Casablanca (Alazon Bay), April 5, 1943. Photo courtesy Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Henry J. Kaiser and Eleanor Roosevelt launching the U.S.S. Casablanca (Alazon Bay), April 5, 1943. Photo courtesy Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Eleanor Roosevelt came to the Kaiser Company shipyard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington to personally launch the U.S.S. Casablanca, the first in a new class of small, versatile and inexpensive aircraft carriers.

The class was named for the Battle of Casablanca, fought November 8-12, 1942, where the U.S. Navy fought vessels under the control of Nazi-occupied France. The 50 ships the Kaiser yards produced comprised almost a third of the American carriers built during the war and were launched in less than two years.  

The ship was known as the Alazon Bay while under construction and renamed the U.S.S. Casablanca two days before she slid down the ways on April 5, 1943.  Five of the “baby flattops” were sunk in action during the war, and none survive today.

Health care, not warfare

But Eleanor wasn’t just there for the latest in military technology. She was more interested in the social programs affiliated with the massive shipbuilding projects, including child care, prepared meals for double-duty women, and health care.

Henry J. Kaiser listened to her and responded by introducing two controversial (at the time) programs for shipyard workers – model child care facilities near two of the shipyards and pre-cooked meals for working moms.

"USS Casablanca, built by Kaiser Co., Inc., Vancouver" colorized litho print, 1943.  "Donated to Kaiser Permanente by Victor Sork, a shipyard welder."

“USS Casablanca, built by Kaiser Co., Inc., Vancouver,” colorized litho print, 1943. “Donated to Kaiser Permanente by Victor Sork, a shipyard welder.”

As for health care, Mr. Kaiser needed no convincing. Mrs. Roosevelt was given a grand tour of the state-of-the-art Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital built in September, 1942 for the shipyard workers.

Eleanor wrote a regular newspaper column, “My Day.” Her April 7, 1943, entry included this reflection on the Portland visit:

A little after 9:00 o’clock Monday morning we were met in Portland, Ore., by Mr. Henry J. Kaiser and his son Mr. Edgar Kaiser. A group of young Democrats presented me with a lovely bunch of red roses at the airport and then we were whisked off for a busy day.

Our first tour was in the Kaiser shipyard itself. It is certainly busy and businesslike. Everything seems to be in place and moving as quickly as possible along a regular line of production. I was particularly interested in the housing, so I was shown the dormitories and then the hospital, which is run on a species of health cooperative basis costing the employees seven cents a day. It looked to me very well-equipped and much used, but I was told there were few accidents in the shipyards owing to safety devices. The men come in for medical care and some surgery and their families are also cared for…

The ship went safely down the ways at the appointed time and was duly christened. It was interesting and impressive to see all the workers and their families gathered together for the occasion and I felt there was a spirit of good workmanship in this yard.

 
Mrs. Roosevelt was so intrigued with the new medical care program that she wrote Permanente’s founding physician, Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, who happened to be away at the time of her visit. “What is your plan for preventive care?” she asked.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital, April 5, 1943.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital, April 5, 1943.

 

“This is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country”

Dr. Sidney Garfield replied in a letter May 25, 1943, in which he took the opportunity to explain how aligned the first lady’s vision was with that of the Permanente Health Plan:

I regret very much not to have been present during your recent visit to Vancouver, Washington, and not to have had the opportunity of showing you through our medical facilities and hospitals in the Oakland-Richmond, California area.

Your expression of interest in preventive medicine is rather closely allied with our thoughts for medical care. Mr.Kaiser and I believe that preventive medicine is more important than the curative side. Our medical programs have always been developed with this fact in mind… 

Because of the economy of such a medical plan the cost of medical care to the people is lowered. For the small amount charged at Coulee Dam we were able to provide the best of medical care and pay for the hospital facilities provided in a period of four years. When the cost ofthe facilities is paid for the charge per week to the people can be reduced, or the money used to provide more facilities, added equipment, and for research. Mr. Kaiser and all of us who have had a part in these programs feel that this is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country. It is self-sustaining and unites the medical profession, the employer and employee all in one common objective – “to keep the people well and to prevent their illness.”

Your interest in our organization is greatly appreciated. If we can be of further service in answering your questions please do not hesitate to call on us.

Respectfully,

Sidney R. Garfield, M.D.
Medical Director, Kaiser Co., Inc., West Coast Shipyards

 

Years later, Eleanor Roosevelt’s light would shine on KP again.

In 2007 Kaiser Permanente was one of three recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from American Rights at Work, an advocacy and public policy organization responsible for promoting and defending workers’ rights since 2003. Kaiser Permanente received the award for “creating a management-union partnership based on mutual trust and respect.”

 

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KP Physician’s Productive Visit to India

posted on September 11, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente’s “Dispatches From” blog showcases the commitment of our physicians and staff to serving disadvantaged populations overseas, allowing caregivers to share their thoughts and observations with those back home. Basketball court building in Peru, surgery in Vietnam, gynecology in Kenya – all highlight the passion and compassion that defines the health care community.

But those roots run deep, and service abroad is not just a recent phenomenon. One example was Dr. James Flett, a KP Walnut Creek pediatrician. Imagine a time machine churning out this article from the staff newsletter KP Reporter from October, 1963 as a “Dispatches From”:

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Dr. James Flett at Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek, circa 1963.

“India Borrows Doctor”

Dr. James Flett has gone to India.

For the next two years the former chief of pediatrics at Walnut Creek will be teaching men and women at the University of Bombay School of Medicine the arts of protecting children’s health.

For some years the World Health Organization has been helping medical schools to develop, or improve, special departments for pediatrics. As Visiting Professor of Social Pediatrics, Dr. Flett’s objective will be to train young physicians in a preventive approach to child health.

The social pediatrician does not, for instance, hospitalize a child for severe protein malnutrition and simply discharge him when he is in good condition. He inquires also into the home situation, teaches the parents something about nutrition, and attempts to prevent a return of the child’s disease.

Part of Dr. Flett’s Indian assignment will be to direct outpatient treatment centers, where medical students will have an opportunity to see patients with moderate illness, since those hospitalized are usually very extreme cases.

But, like all good stories, it didn’t end there.

Tragically, Dr. Flett was killed in a car accident in 1966, and his widow gave an endowment in his name to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics for the best research paper on Social and Preventive Pediatrics presented during their annual conference. The Indian medical community deeply appreciated Dr. Flett; in 2005 Dr. Bharat R. Agarwal, Hon. Secretary General of the IAP, noted that “[Dr. Flett] helped to upgrade pediatrics in Bombay by increasing collaboration between the three [major] medical colleges.”

 

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Emmy Lou Packard – WWII shipyard magazine illustrator

posted on September 3, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

The World War II Home Front demanded huge sacrifices from civilians, and the Kaiser shipyards saw people from all walks of life working side by side. My uncle was an anthropologist at UC Berkeley who spent four years as a marine steamfitter in Richmond; he also wrote for the weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft – whose staff editorial assistant was none other than the well-known contemporary artist Emmy Lou Packard.14_0715_03-sm

By the mid-1940s, California native Packard (1914-1998) was already a respected artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had received her Bachelor of Arts at UC Berkeley in 1936, where she had been arts editor of the Daily Californian and the campus literary magazine Occident. She was also the first female editor of the Pelican, the humor magazine. Packard later studied sculpture and fresco painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She had befriended renowned Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and after her first husband Burton Cairns’ tragic death in 1939 Packard went to Mexico where she lived and worked with the artistic couple.

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Emmy Lou Packard’s first Fore ‘n’ Aft illustration, July 28, 1944.

During World War II, Emmy Lou became a draftswoman at the Ames Shipbuilding and Drydock Company office in San Francisco, and later moved across the bay to work in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. She first appeared in the Fore ‘n’ Aft masthead on June 16, 1944. Soon, in addition to her editorial work, Packard began to contribute art to the newspaper. She created scratchboard illustrations and drawings, drew a recurring single-frame cartoon “Shirley the Whirley” about an anthropomorphic rolling-and-turning shipyard crane with attitude, and collaborated on a cartoon strip called “Supermac,” which ran from September 8, 1944, through March 30, 1945.

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“Emmy Lou Packard talking to an unknown man at the Richmond shipyards. circa 1941–1945. Photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. The Oakland Tribune Collection. Gift of Emmy Lou Packard.”

Her debut as a shipyard illustrator in Fore ‘n’ Aft was July 28, 1944, with a powerful depiction of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 that year. Artillery shells bursting in a night sky blasted above the fold, accompanying a first-hand account by former Richmond shipyard worker Richard Cox.

Although she would continue to create a few more major graphics, her forte became “spot illustrations”– those sweet, tiny images that break up type-heavy pages. Often, but not always, the graphics would accompany a specific article such as tips on workplace safety or healthy eating.

The illustrations were never credited, so identifying those done by Emmy Lou is an inexact process. Her son, Donald Cairns, has helped to try and confirm the approximately 100 illustrations she created over her 15 months at Fore ‘n’ Aft.

Packard’s lengthy obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the approximately 100 paintings she made of shipyard scenes, but said nothing about her work on Fore ‘n’ Aft. Her son’s website honoring Packard’s career briefly mentions that stint without details, but until now no comprehensive survey of those illustrations has been available.

Such an omission can be explained by the unfortunate art world disinterest in something considered as lowly as labor newspaper illustrations as well as lack of access to the source material. The second limitation has now changed; this essay was made possible by a recent partnership between Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond (California) Museum of History to digitize as many issues of Fore ‘n’ Aft as possible. The graphics displayed here are the fruit of that digital collaboration.

What do the illustrations reveal?

The Kaiser shipyards began making transport vessels for the British government in 1941, before the United States joined the war. Two magazines covered seven yards (The Bos’n’s Whistle was the publication for the Portland, Ore., area Kaiser shipyards), and many of the cartoons and illustrations in the early issues reflect what one would expect from a trade dominated by straight, white, male industrial laborers of the time – sexist, racist, and homophobic.

But as a vastly different Home Front workforce replaced them, editorial sensibilities evolved as well. What a difference it made to have a politically progressive woman wielding a pen. Packard’s work was patriotic without resorting to racist jabs or stereotypes; she portrayed workers with dignity and character. She drew women’s experiences from a woman’s point of view – numerous vignettes show children (one of her regular subjects later in life), shopping, home life, and the challenges of survival and adjustment in a tempestuous time.

When Packard left Fore ‘n’ Aft, the editors wrote a testimonial to her contribution:

“Emmy Lou Packard is a fine artist. She painted the people who work in the yards with a deftness and freshness. But more, she sketched and painted how these workers feel. She pictured man in the complicated throes of the huge shipyards, with twisting pipes and rolls of cable drums, boilers and ten-ton steel plates, and plate shop presses fifteen feet high. Always man was a part of this complexity and always he controlled the huge machines and materials.”

These are but a few examples of Emmy Lou Packard’s previously unexamined yet important work.

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The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The pageant of around-the-clock workers arriving and departing from the yards was captured in this vignette. 3/9/1945

The pageant of around-the-clock workers arriving and departing from the yards was captured in this vignette. 3/9/1945

For many, the shipyards was the first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

For many people, the shipyards were their first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

Peacetime dreams became increasingly topical as the war neared its end; here, a couple contemplates the question that “You like pre-fabbed card, why not houses?” Henry J. Kaiser advocated mass-produced affordable housing. 3/9/1945

Peacetime dreams became increasingly topical as the war neared its end; here, a couple contemplates the question that “You like pre-fabbed cars, why not houses?” Henry J. Kaiser advocated mass-produced affordable housing. 3/9/1945

This hard-hat-wearing dinner-making mother succinctly shows women’s nonstop work at home and in shipyard production. 3/30/1945

This hard-hat-wearing dinner-making mother succinctly shows women’s nonstop work at home and in shipyard production. 3/30/1945

Humorous class commentary places this uncomfortable white-collar suit amidst a trolley full of shipyard overalls 7/13/1945

Humorous class commentary places this uncomfortable white-collar suit amidst a trolley full of shipyard overalls. 7/13/1945

Many Fore ‘n’ Aft articles featured the rich diversity of the labor force; this illustration about Latin American immigrant workers is beautifully rendered by Packard in a style that would have made Diego Rivera proud. 3/30/1945

Many Fore ‘n’ Aft articles featured the rich diversity of the labor force; this illustration about Latin American immigrant workers is beautifully rendered in a style that shows Diego Rivera’s influence. 3/30/1945

Shipyard production ran around the clock; this shows night shift workers talking to each other. 3/23/1945

Shipyard production ran around the clock; this shows night shift workers talking to each other. 3/23/1945

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Healing starts with communication

posted on August 29, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

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Spanish medical communication instructor Miriam Amor in class, 1974.

Kaiser Permanente has long been a health care innovator. The KP health plan, which served an ethnically diverse population as far back as the WWII shipyards, has always been aware of the need for what is now called “culturally competent care.” 

The article “Clases de Espanol en Santa Clara” in the November 1, 1974 employee newsletter KP Reporter described one such program:

“La medicina que estoy tomando para mi condicion no me esta ayudando,” says the woman to a pharmacist. “Que es la resulta de mis rayos equis?” asks a patient of a technician. “No me siento muy bien, me siento enfermo,” a child tells a receptionist.

Do you know what these people are saying? “The medicine I am taking for my stomach condition is not helping”; “What is the result of my X-ray?”; “I am not feeling well, I feel ill.”

These and many more equally important me ages are spoken daily by Spanish-speaking Health Plan members at the Santa Clara Medical Center. Many Mexican Americans who are multilingual may still be unable to express or understand a crucial medical word or phrase. This can be annoying and time consuming to employee but dangerous to an anxious patient.

Communicative Spanish for Medical Personnel, Spanish 50, is the KP Department of Education and Training’s attempt to help the staff communicate inSpanish taught by Mrs. Miriam Amor of West Valley College. It is one of six college-credit courses being offered this semester at Santa Clara by the Department of Education and Training under Lorraine Brobst.

Ms. Brobst observed: “Almost every department that comes in contact with patients has someone in the class – Reception, Central Appointment, and this department, as well as Nursing, a psychologist and a doctor.”

Southern California’s KP facilities needed multilingual services as well. A 1975 issue of their member newsletter Planning for Health describes a similar commitment to language training:

Off-duty employees at Bellflower Medical Center are taking part in a beginning Spanish conversation course in order to improve communication with Spanish-speaking patients. According to Robert Essink, assistant hospital administrator, “Accessibility of care can be improved by better communication. The purpose of the course is to develop a basic understanding of conversational Spanish, with emphasis on medical phrases.”

In addition to the language class, emphasis is on placing Spanish-speaking personnel at key patient contact positions throughout the medical center, and providing Spanish language instructional and procedural signs.

In the current epoch, Federal law – and common sense – requires that patients with limited English proficiency have access to linguistic services at each point of contact in a health care system. To address that challenge, Kaiser Permanente established a “Qualified Bilingual Staff Model” that identifies bilingual staff members of all types (including doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists), assesses their language skills, and provides them with comprehensive training based on their level of linguistic competency.

As of 2014, over 11,400 staff members in all seven KP regions have trained in the award-winning program (among other kudos, in 2005 it won the Recognizing Innovation in Multicultural Health Care Award from the National Committee for Quality Assurance and was the core program noted in Kaiser Permanente’s 2013 Corporate Leadership Award from the Migration Policy Insitute).

Clear communication about health care is a crucial first step toward a successful outcome – and a challenge taken seriously by Kaiser Permanente from its inception.


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