Archive for February, 2010

David Otey: KP Volunteer Spirit in Haiti

posted on February 26, 2010

Above, David Otey at radio control station in 1990 around the time of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California. At right, David on the ground in Haiti.

Our latest guest blog is by David Otey from the front line of volunteers who responded to the earthquake in Haiti in January. Some people inside Kaiser Permanente remember David from his years as an emergency management specialist. He worked on many projects not the least of which included organizing and directing emergency communications with Kaiser Permanente medical centers within minutes of the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989; managing our Regional Emergency Operations Center during the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991; directing the Center to support our Southern California Region after the 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994. We remember David, now retired, as the project manager who helped us get our Heritage Resources program up and running starting in 2003. David represents a historic commitment among Kaiser Permanente people on the front line of disaster volunteers. He was there in New York City after 9/11 and he was there in Haiti last month. Here’s his report from Haiti:

DMAT CA-6 Deployment to Haiti – January 13–26, 2010

I had an extraordinary experience last month assisting the relief effort in Haiti.

I joined 38 of my Disaster Medical Assistance Team, DMAT CA-6 (www. ca6dmat.org) colleagues as Communications Officer for a medical response assignment in Haiti following the devastating 7.0M earthquake on January 12. We departed Oakland the next day on a red-eye flight to Atlanta, where we met other responding DMAT teams. On Friday, we flew by charter to Port-au-Prince, Haiti and began a several day stay at the U.S. Embassy (camping on the garden lawn) while equipment arrived and security arrangements were finalized.

On January 20, (after a strong aftershock woke us) our team and DMAT NJ-1were assigned to operate jointly and transported to a nearby locality, called Petionville (“Pe-Shun”ville). We were co-located with the US Army’s 1-73rd Cavalry 82nd Airborne Division (what an outstanding group they are!) on a steep hill overlooking what was a golf course in pre-earthquake times but now is home to 30-50,000 Haitians.

I teamed up with two Communications wizards from the NJ-1 team, Mike, KC2GMM and Adam, KC2AEP, to establish field communications for our medical and support staff. Although no amateur radio equipment is utilized, the scene at the “commo” desk sure looked similar (and as cluttered) to “Field Day” setups I’ve seen (see picture). I remarked to my commo colleagues this seemed like a Field Day on steroids! While our medical staff managed treatment tents and formed “strike-teams” to hike and motor into the communities nearby, our commo team assisted in supporting radio, telephone and computer traffic between our field teams and the disaster management team at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Once in the field, our joint medical teams treated more than 1000 patients over four days, including to the delight of all, the birth of two babies.

At the conclusion of field work on Sunday, January 24, our team was relieved by DMAT FL-1. The NJ-1 was scheduled to bring them up-to-speed and then rotate out three days later. We travelled back to the U.S. Embassy in Army Humvees for another night before returning to Atlanta for a debrief and team dinner. On Tuesday, January 26, we arrived safely back home.

Witnessing the devastation of Port-au-Prince and the dislocation of thousands of citizens was heart-wrenching. I am proud to have served with my DMAT colleagues and the American Haitian relief efforts. Much more recovery work remains to be done and I hope everyone able will find ways to assist.

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Henry & Bess Kaiser: ‘Unabashedly Sentimental’ Valentine’s Day Story

posted on February 12, 2010
By Tom Debley

Bess & Henry Kaiser

Thinking about sweethearts across America expressing their love this Valentine’s Day weekend, my attention was drawn to almost 200 newly acquired recordings in our Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archive.  One recording qualifies as a “singing Valentine” from Henry J. Kaiser to his wife, Bess, as World War II drew to a close 65 years ago.

First, the backdrop.

Bess Kaiser, with Henry, prepares to launch one of her husband's ships. Sons Henry Jr., left, and Edgar look on

One has to understand that the Kaisers—along with their sons Edgar and Henry Jr.—were “unabashed sentimentalists,” as Kaiser biographer Albert P. Heiner has recalled.   “They showed their affection for each other by effusive words of love they so often expressed.  And by unhesitatingly putting their arms around each on a regular basis.”

Henry Kaiser called Bess “mother” in private and public.  This struck a cord within the Kaiser organization, and she became widely known among Kaiser’s employees as “Mother Kaiser.”

In October 1945, this sentiment was reflected at a banquet honoring “Mother Kaiser” with a song from a group of Kaiser singers in a rendition of  “Let Us Call You Sweetheart.”  Based, of course, on “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” this popular song dates from 1910—three years after the marriage of Henry and Bess.  It became a lifelong favorite of the couple.

If you take a listen to the song, you will hear the singers invite the audience to join in.  Listen especially to the end when Henry Kaiser—a little off key—joins in an unabashedly sentimental solo.

A second recording at the banquet was a humorous takeoff of the 1892 classic “Bicycle Built for Two.” Here are the changed lyrics:

Bessie, Bessie,
Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy
All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
We can’t afford a carriage,
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

Henry, Henry, here is your answer dear.
I can’t cycle. It makes me feel so queer.
If you can’t afford a carriage,
Call off your bloomin’ marriage,
For I’ll be blown if I’ll be ‘tow’n’
On a bicycle built for two.

Henry, of course, provided much more for Bess than “a bicycle built for two.”

Bess & Henry J. Kaiser in 1946

As one of the 20th Century’s most successful industrialists, Henry Kaiser also built several lines of automobiles. Kaiser’s love for Bess and for automobiles is illustrated in one of the photographs reproduced here. It is an image from our history archive that shows Henry and Bess playfully taking a spin in a door-less small truck in 1946 at a Kaiser industrial plant in Trentwood, Washington.

Henry and Bess Kaiser’s lasting legacy, of course, is Kaiser Permanente.  In 1942, they formed the Permanente Foundation Health Plan, a charitable trust, to serve the health care needs of 200,000 Kaiser employes on the Home Front of World War II.  It was Bess who picked the name.  The couple had a retreat along the bank of Permanente Creek south of San Francisco that she found beautiful and calming.  Read more about that in “Search for the Source of the Permanente” by our senior consulting historian, Steve Gilford.

Let me close with special thanks to collector Ron Gorremans of Lincoln City, Oregon, from whom the Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archive acquired these World War II era recordings.  The audio clips are from master recordings of 118 ship launches during the war from Henry Kaiser’s Swan Island Shipyard in Portland, Oregon.  They are currently being digitized.  When that is complete, we will deposit the originals in a permanent preservation archive as well as make the digital copies available to the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park for use in its interpretive program.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Support for First Lady’s Fight for Children’s Health Newest Chapter in Kaiser Permanente’s Historic Leadership

posted on February 9, 2010

by Tom Debley and Bryan Culp

Kaiser Permanente people can feel a real sense of pride – present and historic – with word we are a founding partner in the Partnership for a Healthier America, the coalition that will work alongside First Lady Michelle Obama in the fight against the nationwide epidemic in childhood obesity.

On the Home Front of WWII in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards, children of the shipyard workers stepped up to the scales during their routine health checkups. Kaiser Permanente was the largest civilian medical care program in the U.S. in World War II, and is today a sponsor of the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.

This critical movement in 2010 is reminiscent in some ways of another First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, when she reached out more than a half century ago in 1943 to Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Sidney R. Garfield, for advice on preventive medicine.  “I am interested in getting medical care, both preventive and curative, at least cost to the people,” she said in a message from the White House.

And on another leadership front, it is reminiscent of a Southern California Permanente Medical Group physician and UCLA School of Medicine professor who, 45 years ago, published the first research paper to suggest that atherosclerosis, a consequence of obesity, might in fact be a “pediatric disease.” Dr. Martin Reisman, a pediatric cardiologist, issued the seminal call for a better understanding of the dietary causes of pediatric atherosclerosis. (For more information on Dr. Reisman’s work, see the vignette, Voice of a Permanente Pioneer.)

The latest leadership initiative came as Michelle Obama announced that she’s taking a leading role as an advocate for clinical and community-based prevention approaches to fight the nationwide epidemic in childhood obesity. Her Let’s Move campaign will encourage families to commit to living healthier, active lives.

Kaiser Permanente is one of the founding partners in the Partnership for a Healthier America, is a coalition that will work alongside the First Lady to place best practices for fighting childhood obesity in every community throughout the nation. Other founding partners include The California Endowment, Nemours, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Kaiser Permanente has long supported a comprehensive approach to combating childhood obesity, including healthy eating and active living, and clinical and evidence-based interventions. As Ray Baxter, senior vice president, Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy, commented on the First Lady’s announcement: “KP has been committed to clinical weight management and community health efforts for many years, and we have received national acclaim for this work…. In every community we serve, we work to fight obesity, reduce health disparities and make healthy food and physical activity a part of everyday life.”

For more information on our involvement in this effort, visit Kaiser Permanente’s News Center.

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Myth Buster: Henry J. Kaiser and the Jeep

posted on February 3, 2010
By Tom Debley
Director, Heritage Resources, Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser at wheel of a Jeep

Many people think Henry J. Kaiser’s foray into the automobile business after World War II was a failure when his Kaiser automobiles disappeared from America’s roads after only a few years. If you are one of them, think again. Indeed, if you drive a Jeep or the next time you are sitting at a traffic light next to a Jeep, think Henry Kaiser.

The Jeep was Kaiser’s most successful automobile venture when, in 1953, he bought Toledo-based Willys Overland, maker of the Jeep that became world-famous with its service in World War II.

Willys Overland was the maker of engines for Kaiser’s “Henry J,” America’s first compact car. Kaiser had entered automotive manufacturing in 1946, but by 1953 he was losing money.  So when he bought Willys Overland that year for about $70 million in the biggest auto merger in history to date, some argued he was throwing good money after bad.

Kaiser Pink Jeep Surrey was a line of Jeeps in the 1960s

Not the case. As Patrick R. Foster concludes in his book “The Story of Jeep” (Krause Publications, Iola, WI, 1998), “There were several reasons why Kaiser wanted Willys, but the biggest was pride. Henry Kaiser had never failed at anything he tried, but it appeared that the auto business would break that streak.”

What followed was an all-out marketing campaign to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the Jeep. Kaiser’s faith in the Jeep began paying off.  Annual sales volume topped $160 million within two years, with a profit approaching $5 million. It was the first profit for Kaiser’s car manufacturing since 1948.

Designers at work at Kaiser Jeep Corp. in the 1950s.

By 1966, Kaiser Jeep Corp. was building sports and compact cars, stationwagons, and the Jeep Wagoneer, which some say was America’s first SUV. Where there had been one plant in Toledo, manufacture of the Jeep had spread to 32 other countries by the time of Kaiser’s death in 1967.

Five years after Kaiser died, Kaiser Jeep Corp. was sold in 1972 to American Motors. A few years later, Renault Company of France bought American Motors.

In 1987 Chrysler Corporation bought American Motors from Renault for the sole purpose of getting the rights to manufacture the Jeep. Lee lacocca, like Henry Kaiser before him, capitalized on America’s love for the ubiquitous, ‘go-anywhere’ Jeep. 

So while Henry Kaiser is mostly remembered today for co-founding Kaiser Permanente, you can also thank him for making the Jeep a popular American car around the world.

(Photos: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and the Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archive)  

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