Henry J. Kaiser’s Early Support for Merchant Marine Veterans

posted on November 19, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


War is hell.

One of the grim metrics of conflict is the casualty rate. During World War II no branch of the U.S. Armed Forces suffered as high a proportion as those who served in the American Merchant Marine – and who weren’t even in the military. Merchant mariners suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service, losing 3.9 percent of their 243,000 members, more than the 3.7 percent of the U.S. Marines.

Fore'n'Aft, 1944-10-06

Photo from article about United Seamen’s Service center in San Francisco; Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore’n’Aft, 10/06/1944.

An earlier blog post laid out the background on the role of the wartime Merchant Marine and their struggle for respect and benefits. This year two legislators introduced HR563, the World War II Merchant Mariners Act, which would recognize surviving seamen “for their bravery and sacrifice” and award them $25,000 each.

However, few know of the support that famed World War II shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser offered those mariners during the war, and how that support exemplified his commitment to nondiscrimination in serving communities.

With the urging of maritime unions, the United Seamen’s Service was created August 8, 1942, by the War Shipping Administration with the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It sought to provide facilities for rest, recreation and safety for seafarers who carried troops and war materials to ports in the war zones. Eventually more than 125 locations would be established worldwide.

It was turned over for private operation and ownership on September 13, 1942. Henry J. Kaiser was the first president, and the War Shipping Administration’s Admiral Emory S. Land was chairman of the board. Joseph Curran, of the National Maritime Union, and Harry Lundeberg, of the National Seafarer’s Union, were vice presidents.

Andrew Furuseth Club, United Seamen's Service postcard- 1943

Andrew Furuseth Club, United Seamen’s Service postcard, 1943

“United Seamen’s Service Opens Recreational Club” in The New York Age from October 17, 1942, touted the the first USS facility. The club was named for Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938), a central figure in the formation of two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. A Kaiser-built Liberty ship named for Furuseth would be launched from Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 1 the next month, on September 7.

Officers and men of the American Merchant Marine, many of them survivors of ships sunk by the enemy, cheered as the United Seamen’s Service opened for their exclusive use, the first of a coastal chain of recreational clubs at 30 East 37th street.

The staid, brownstone, four story building, owned by Mrs. Julius S. Morgan and situated within a few doors of J.P. Morgan’s home, was “dressed” for the occasion from roof to basement with code flags and burgees, as a band played nautical airs. Accustomed to cramped accommodations aboard ship, the seamen praised the club’s spacious and luxuriously appointed lounge rooms, game rooms, library, and the dance floor with its modernistic bar.

Speaking at the opening of the club, Douglas P. Falconer, national director of United Seamen’s Service, declared that the neglect of human needs of seamen was a disgrace to the nation. He promised that his organization would do its utmost to “rub out that disgrace.”

"Merchant Seamen Have Own Club" 1942-10-22

“Merchant Seamen Have Own Club” wire photo, 10/22/1942

In describing the program of the United, Seamen’s Service…Mr. Falconer said: “We’ll look after every American seaman picked up by a rescue ship and landed in a strange port far from home. If he needs medical care, well see that he gets it on the spot. We’ll replace his lost clothes and papers, notify his folk at home. We’ll see that he gets proper food and rest and freedom from worry over how he’s going to get back home and on another ship. For that’s all the men themselves ask is a chance to get patched up so that they can go to sea again!

A postcard for the club noted that, in addition to coffee and home-cooked food, the club had “medical and social services staff in daily attendance.” That’s care and coverage together.


A January, 1943, article “All Seamen Are the Same” in The Crisis (the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) praised the USS’s impact in the fight against racism and discrimination:

The United Seamen’s Service is outstanding in that the set-up makes no provision for discrimination because of race or creed. Rest homes are planned in many of the southern seaboard communities where merchant seamen will live together without special provisions being made for Negroes…

With the existence of separate USO [United Service Organizations] centers within the army camps and separate canteens for white and Negro soldiers, the action of the United Seamen’s Service presents a lesson in practical democracy that may well be copied by many other groups, including the United States Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.

Henry J. Kaiser was called the “Patriot in Pinstripes” for his contributions during World War II, but his social justice legacy extended to Home Front veterans without uniforms as well.


Also see:
The USS / American Merchant Marine Library Association currently

Blog posts:
Thousands of Merchant Seamen Lost Lives in World War II
Henry Kaiser and the Merchant Sailors Union: The Curious Case of the SS Pho Pho

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1QwHP0x
Blog updated 11/20/2015


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Dr. Morris Collen’s Last Book on Medical Informatics

posted on November 13, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Dr. Morris Collen at work in his apartment, 2013

Dr. Morris Collen at work in his apartment, 2013

The last published work of Morris F. Collen, MD, one of Kaiser Permanente’s original founding physicians, has been published almost exactly a year after his death at age 100. Dr. Collen – Morrie, as he was affectionately known to many of us – worked on the book virtually until the day he died on Sept. 27, 2014.

This second edition of A History of Medical Informatics in the United States, available in hardback and eBookwas not only a labor of Dr. Collen’s love for the field – is also a comprehensive updating of his original work, first published in 1995.

The Permanente Medical Group, which supported the book’s publication, and the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, honored Collen’s life and the colleagues who helped to complete this book during the American Medical Informatics Association symposium at the San Francisco Hilton Union Square this November 15.

On his 100th birthday, November 12, 2013, Collen reflected on the amazing changes in health care during his lifetime.

Now everybody has a personal health record…The technology has kept advancing. Our first computer took up a whole room. Now your smart phone has got everything that we had on the IBM 1440…You can go and pull up your Kaiser record! It’s fantastic! I can hardly believe it.

And he himself was a key figure in that advancement.

Cover, Morris Collen's second edition of The History of Medical Informatics in the United States, 2015

Collen, Morris F., and Ball, Marion J. 2015. The History of Medical Informatics in the United States. Springer Verlag.

This final edition offered a forum for health care professionals to laud Dr. Collen’s notable achievements in two forewords and a preface. These excerpts attest to the impact of Dr. Collen’s work.

Foreword by Charles Safran, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and recipient of the 2014 Morris F. Collen Award:

How often does a person envision a new medical discipline and then live to see this vision come into reality? He not only practiced his discipline, he established professional associations to promote it, and he mentored generations of practitioners. As a result of his pioneering efforts, we now have a field of clinical informatics. Information and communication technology is now used to improve health and healthcare in our hospitals, our clinicians’ offices, our places of work, our schools, and our homes. Physicians and nurses now train in clinical informatics, and physicians can be board certified in what has become a new subspecialty.

Foreword by Tracy Lieu, MD, director of the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, Calif. and Robert Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group:

Dr. Collen developed his groundbreaking contributions to medical informatics amid the fertile environment of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s first and most renowned integrated healthcare systems. As one of the founding partners of The Permanente Medical Group, now the largest medical group in the U.S., Morrie championed the principle that physicians should manage healthcare for both individual patients and large populations. He and the organization’s other founders weathered controversy during the 1940s and 1950s for their beliefs. Today, the concepts of prepayment for services, comprehensive electronic medical records, and an emphasis on preventive care have been widely embraced throughout the country.

This book reflects Morrie’s visionary leadership as well as the dedication of his many colleagues, especially his beloved editor, Marion Ball, EdD. At a time when the most advanced computers had less power than a watch today, he saw what was possible and the ultimate potential for big data to revolutionize medical care. In sharing ways we can harness information to take better care of patients in real-world settings, this work stands as a beacon on the path to better healthcare for modern society.

Preface by Marion J. Ball, EdD, and editor of this edition:

As he revised his History, Morrie restructured the book… reflecting the transformation medical informatics had undergone in the years since 1990. This new History provides an unrivaled repository of the literature – much of it in hard-to-locate proceedings and reports from professional and industry groups – that guided informatics as it matured. Yet it is much more than a repository. It sets forth Morrie’s last assessments of the field he pioneered and cultivated, and it is enriched by the contributions of his colleagues who reviewed his chapters and helped bring this volume to completion. Always collegial, Morrie himself would welcome these new perspectives on the work that engaged him so completely up to the end of his life.

To all those who look to the evolving field of informatics for tools and approaches to providing healthcare that is efficient, effective, evidence-based, and of the highest quality possible, this is Morrie’s gift.


Dr. Collen, we thank you for your gifts.

More on Kaiser Permanente health research: http://k-p.li/research

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1SOs2so


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Kaiser Permanente Nursing Students Trained with Veterans

posted on November 4, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

KFSN students at VA Hospital, Martinez, circa 1969

KFSN students at VA Hospital, Martinez, 1967

During the Viet Nam War students from the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing (1947-1976) participated in clinical rotation programs in rehabilitation, community, and rural health. For training in psychiatric nursing, many went to the Veterans Administration Hospital (now called the Veterans Affairs Medical Center) in Martinez, Calif.

There, they not only honed their skill in compassionate nursing, they brought comfort to servicemen and women recovering from the war in Southeast Asia.


A June, 1967 article in the KP Reporter titled “Nursing students entertain at Martinez” described a successful third year win in a theatrical revue contest:

Reporter 1967-06

“Josephine Coppedge, Director of the School, congratulates the winning [Spring Sing] class.” June, 1967

The student nurses – who have temporarily traded in their caps and uniforms for greasepaint and the footlights – also presented their musical skits at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Martinez the following week. In the past only the winning class has gone, but this year all three classes entertained the patients. Approximately 350 people attended the annual Spring Sing.


Snapshots from KFSN alumni from that same year show more of this relationship – a day of physical therapy, socializing, and recreation.

KFSN students at VA Hospital, Martinez, circa 1969

Seated KFSN students, left to right: Linda Stringham, Judy Wigglesworth, Victoire Volf, Victoria Soares, Mary Hoffarth, Mary Thomassen, Nancy Sutherland, Prudence Wolfe. 1967

KFSN students at VA Hospital, Martinez, circa 1969

Physical therapy, VA Hospital, 1967









Special thanks to KFSN alumni for help with this article.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1LQCz3V

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From Paper to Pixels – the New Paradigm of Electronic Medical Records

posted on October 29, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Change rarely comes easily. People get used to doing things a certain way, and physicians are no exception. One such shift was a technology Kaiser Permanente adopted early on, creating patient medical records electronically rather than on paper.

In 2013 I interviewed Jim Gersbach, senior hospital communications consultant for Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest region. As their unofficial historian, Jim had accumulated many stories during his 28 years of service. This is an edited version of one of his learnings.


“EpiCare was forcing [doctors] to actually enter data on every patient; they couldn’t just leave it blank.” -Jim Gersbach

I’ve been able to see decisions made and then see them evolve over time, and whether those were good decisions, or not, and how they played out 10, 15, or even 20 years later. A lot of friends that I know, they work for a company, they work really hard, they try things, they innovate for two, three years, and then they move on. And they never really know what the long term impacts of those decisions were.

I’ve had the opposite experience. I’ve been able to see innovations and policies that were introduced; I could then see if they really did pan out, and hold up, and stand the test of time.

This example is from an article I wrote in 1996 for our employee publication. I was talking with Dr. Michael Krall, one of our physicians working on a beta pilot project at the Sunset Medical Office. He had a desktop computer, and he said that they were working on this EpiCare product, and it was going to change the face of healthcare. I said ‘Oh, well how’s it work?’

Prior to that, we had computerized lab records, computerized this, computerized that. But you had to go and get those records sent to you, and it was not all integrated the way it is now. It was interesting, from that one discussion of them beta testing in that one medical office, to then see that it later succeeded, and they made the decision to roll it out to the Northwest. Then they gradually put all of Kaiser Permanente’s systems onto EpiCare.

Old school: Bess Kaiser Hospital Medical record Department, 1959

Old school: Bess Kaiser Hospital medical record department, 1959. Receptionist in foreground identifies desired patient folder to be pulled from shelves in background; pneumatic tubes deliver files to nursing station.

I can remember some of the older doctors didn’t even know how to type. That was the biggest barrier; they were doing the old hunt-and-peck because they had never needed to type. They just did dictation, or their nurses would type it up for them. The younger physicians were very eager to adopt computerized medical records, because they were a little bit more familiar with computers.

But after 1998 the Northwest Permanente Medical Group had done some survey work – [which had some] pushback— and heard that ‘This is adding to our day; it’s 45 minutes more a day to try and enter all this stuff in.’ People were complaining that ‘When I did paper, I didn’t take so long to do all this stuff, so it’s not a time saver for us.’

We started looking at that, and found was that sometimes when doctors would get busy, they would just sort of scribble something illegible in the chart, and send it off, because they could get out of their office faster. EpiCare was forcing them to actually enter data on every patient; they couldn’t just leave it blank. That was a major ‘Aha!’ moment. What became evident was, ‘Wait a minute; we’re not necessarily charting everything we’re supposed to.’ And the computerized system actually helped.

Not only did it make everything legible, but it forced clinicians to put something in; you had to type something in, or it wouldn’t advance you forward. It definitely improved the quality of the data.

In the Northwest, at the time EpiCare was being adopted, the doctors were very free to say what they didn’t like about it. But despite all the grumbling about ‘It’s adding to our length of day,’ when we asked, “Would you ever want to go back to paper?” they said ‘Absolutely not! I couldn’t live without the system, because it actually provides me everything I need to know for the patient.’ They very quickly saw the value of it as a clinical aid.

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1NDdUjM

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