The story of the Color Coded Files – Kaiser Walnut Creek Hospital, 1953

posted on August 10, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

ColorCodedFiles2

 

 

Jack Chapman photo and caption, KaiPerm Kapsul, 1958-06

Jack Chapman, KaiPerm Kapsul, June 1958.

Jack Chapman was hired in 1951 by Kaiser Permanente physician founder Sidney Garfield to be the assistant administrator of Oakland Hospital. Chapman personally supervised the construction of our Walnut Creek Hospital for Henry J. Kaiser and became the hospital’s first administrator. He was also a keeper of Kaiser Permanente’s heritage and a master teller of corporate folklore to generations of employees.

When Jack left this earth in 1999 a Kaiser Permanente obituary called him “a legend in his own time.”  This is one of his stories captured in an interview, about the brand-new Walnut Creek Hospital that opened September 15, 1953 and the open house held August 23-30.

 

“Sunday morning, it was about 5 o’clock in the morning and the phone rings.” Jack!” “Yes, Mr. Kaiser.” He’d call you all times, time did not mean anything to him. “We’re having a meeting at 8 o’clock down at the Clinic.” “Okay, yes, right, you bet, Mr. Kaiser.” “I want you to be there.”

So, Wally Cook, Fred Pellegrin and myself, yeah, that was just the three of us. Well, we got there. Sidney is there, Ale Kaiser [Henry J. Kaiser’s second wife Alyce, whom he married in 1951] and Helen [Helen Chester Peterson, Dr. Garfield’s second wife, whom he’d married less than three months earlier].

“Jack, what’s this filing system you have concocted here?” I said, “It’s called the terminal digit system. Filed by the rear numbers. We have been filing by numbers, Mr. Kaiser, in sequence. But, God, if you misfile, how do you find the thing. This way, you always have the last two numbers and misfiling is very rare. Some people will invert them, a 90 can become a 09 or sometimes people will put them upside down like 06 or 09 but at least you can go to those bins and, you know have a pretty good chance of finding the record.”

I said, “Well, I don’t think that is any good at all.”

Ale then says, “We don’t want to treat our members as numbers.”

I tried to argue, you know, and I got about from here to the end of that desk and that was the end of it. “It is going to alphabetical.” “Alphabetical, oh God,” I said.

Filing medical records, 1965 [circa]

Nurse filing paper medical records, Kaiser Permanente Oakland hospital, circa 1965.

“And, we are going to have a color code.” “You mean, different colors for the different letters of the alphabet.” “Yeah.” “Fine” I said. So here we are, we pull all the charts out and here’s the A’s and Mr. Kaiser is putting the A’s, and the B’s, C’s. Finally, with charts on the floor on a Sunday morning, I said, “Jeez, I wonder if they have enough colors to cover the alphabet.” “We’ll have them make ‘em up.” So sure enough, I don’t know what those chart jackets cost, it must have been ungodly to have these all made up. You know, we had puce, purple and all different colors, my God! Lime green, you know, it looked like Jell-O up there.

“But anyway, we had color codes and then you had to understand what each color meant, that that was an A color and a B color and a D color or whatever. I can recall that incident so well, oh my goodness gracious. Well, it was kind of funny. Finally, the hospital was really going along and we were getting ready to open … we got the whole thing dolled up. We had an open house here like you’ve never seen in your life. We went on for two weeks, every night. 35,000 people marched through this hospital.”

 

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2bjsVuo

 

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4 Responses to “The story of the Color Coded Files – Kaiser Walnut Creek Hospital, 1953”

  1. Loren McDonagh says:

    Love these old stories! Thank you!

  2. Debbie Johnson says:

    I’m a history buff so I love to read the stories and anecdotes about an earlier time. Thank you.

  3. Tamela Montoya says:

    Love this old Kaiser story! What is a bit ironic is that when I started Kaiser in 1995 (I know, not exactly ‘history’!)in Outpatient Medical Records, the filing was done by terminal digits and there was a color coded numbering!

  4. Angelic Torrence says:

    Boy does this article bring back memories! I started my career with KP as a Chart Room Clerk in 1980. The color coded system is what I used to locate charts. In fact, I became so good at finding charts ( in doctor’s offices) that they called me the “hound dog.”

    I’m very proud of my history with KP.

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