By Lincoln Cushing
Most new medical center openings are big. But the 1953 grand opening of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles was really big.
With major support from unions, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan membership was growing rapidly and the plan needed to expand its facilities, especially in Southern California where the longshoremen and retail clerk unions were swelling the ranks.
In 1953, founding physician Sidney Garfield, MD, presided over the opening of three state-of-the-art hospitals in California; one in San Francisco, one in Walnut Creek, and one in the heart of Los Angeles.
Kaiser Permanente’s move to expand its Southern California presence caught the eye of a rising star in the glamorous, show business city of Los Angeles.
Years before Chet Huntley (1911-1974) would become a trusted household name as a television news anchor, he was a radio reporter for the American Broadcasting Company. At 5:30 p.m. on June 24, 1953, Huntley told the country about the spanking new Kaiser Foundation facility.
Here are excerpts from his broadcast:
“It isn’t very often you see a new hospital these days. Our rate of building new hospitals, in spite of the tremendous need for them, is decidedly not one of our national strong points. So I was interested to see the new 3-million-dollar Kaiser-plan hospital in Los Angeles.
“The use of labor-saving devices, the use of light (both natural and artificial), the furnishings, the gadgets, the décor, and the personnel are all combined to make the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital something special.
“The plan is working so well that continued expansion of the Kaiser medical program seems certain. The hospitals and clinics are operating in the black by a margin sufficient to attract splendid medical talent.
“You can, however, listen to the debate and the controversy and perhaps ultimately you’ll decide that the best place to go for a reliable opinion is to the fellow who is paying for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and who is using it.
“Down the line, the customers go for it. Where else, they ask, could they get treatment, care, and medical attention like this for less than the daily cost of a bottle of milk, considerably less than the cost of a package of cigarettes.
“Although this isn’t true of all health plans, the Kaiser program allows the patient to choose his doctor from those on the staff. As one patient said, “What do you mean, doctor-patient relationship? There are 250 doctors here and surely out of that many I can find one with whom I can get along.”
In the ensuing decades, Kaiser Permanente has built many a new and evermore sophisticated medical center. This year, three brand new Kaiser Permanente hospitals have opened or are opening, including an amazing high-tech and green hospital in San Leandro, Calif.
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