Posts Tagged ‘diversity and inclusion’

Ellamae Simmons – Trailblazing African-American Physician

posted on February 3, 2017

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


overcome-coverOvercome: My Life in Pursuit of a Dream

Ellamae Simmons, MD, with editorial collaboration by Rosemarie Robotham
Mill City Press, Minneapolis, 2016
Available via Google Books | Amazon

 

The arc of social justice relies on courageous individuals and Ellamae Simmons, MD, was one such individual. She was the first African-American woman to specialize in asthma, allergy, and immunology in the United States. She worked at Kaiser Permanente for 25 years, and to this day plays a central role in how Kaiser Permanente embraces diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Simmons’ new biography at the age of 97 is a valuable contribution to that history.  The book details her life and career, including graduating from Hampton (Virginia) nursing school in 1940, serving in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, medical school at Meharry Medical College (Nashville) in 1954, and her Kaiser Permanente career.

Dr. Simmons’ chapter titled “The Interview” is about her coming to work at Kaiser Permanente during the summer of 1965. Dr. Simmons had been training in chest medicine at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, at which Irving Itkin, MD, was her supervisor and mentor:

When I told Dr. Itkin of my plan to move west at the end of my residency, he was full of advice. “If you’re going to California,” he told me, “there are only two places you should consider. One is the Scripps clinic in La Jolla in Southern California, and the other is Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. Now,” he continued, warming to the subject of my future training as an allergist, “Scripps is just another National Jewish. They write the same papers and conduct the same research. You’d basically be doing the same thing you did here.

At Kaiser, on the other hand, you’d round out your experience in a well-established outpatient allergy center, where asthmatics are well maintained on an established anti-allergenic regimen. And I recommend Ben Feingold, the chief of asthma-allergy at Kaiser. He’s a good allergist, does fine research. Of course, he’s difficult…. but I recommend you go there and learn everything he has to teach you about asthmatics whose condition is well controlled, who are ambulatory, who go to school or to work. After that you’ll be well set up to take care of anybody in this field.”

Ellamae Simmons school graduation Hampton nursing school, 1940, from Overcome book

Ellamae Simmons graduation Hampton nursing school, 1940, from Overcome

Dr. Simmons’ job interview with Ben Feingold, MD, has become legend in Kaiser Permanente history:

Dr. Ben Feingold sat back in his large bronze-studded black leather chair, scrutinizing me. He questioned me about my previous residencies, always calling me “Miss,” never “Doctor.” He asked me about my asthma-allergy fellowship, and more superficially about my chest medicine residency.

After about 30 minutes, he tented his fingers on his desk and said, “Well, I have my doubts about hiring anyone whom I have not trained, but please go out and see my secretary. We’ll have to continue this another day, as I have another meeting.” He told me to make an appointment with his secretary for the following Tuesday, which was five days away. I could ill afford the expense of additional nights at my hotel, plus meals, but I did not say this. Instead I made the appointment and spent the next few days exploring downtown San Francisco and biding my time.

I returned the following Tuesday for the continuation of our interview and entered Dr. Feingold’s office as scheduled. Again the department chief sat back in his chair and viewed me intently. He asked a few questions about specific allergic reactions and how they might be treated at the institution of my residency. I answered easily and in meticulous clinical detail. At last he said,

“Well, I see you know your stuff, but I’m afraid I cannot hire you, as I’ve never hired anyone whom I have not trained.”…

“Dr. Feingold,” I said, my voice steady, my gaze direct, “I’ve never applied for a job for which I was not fully qualified. In fact, I’ve usually been overqualified. So tell me, is the real reason you’ve decided not to hire me the fact that I’m black?”

She asked Dr. Feingold if there were any other black physicians at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco hospital; it took him a while, but he finally remembered Granville Coggs, MD, a radiologist who’d joined the staff just a few months before. Dr. Simmons met with Dr. Coggs, and they shared experiences of racial discrimination pursuing their respective professions. She then returned to Dr. Feingold’s office, resigned to not getting the position.

Dr. Feingold didn’t respond at first. He just stared at me in that fixed way I was already becoming used to. I realized he was wrestling with a decision.

Finally, he spoke. “Stop by my secretary on your way out and sign your contract,” he said. “I’ll take you after all.”

Dr. Ella Mae Simmons, first black female physician in Northern CA

Dr. Ellamae Simmons, circa 1980

 

Among Dr. Simmons’ battles was that of housing discrimination. Even in the relatively progressive San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1960s, covenants and real estate practices perpetuated racially segregated neighborhoods.

This discrimination also was experienced by another early Kaiser Permanente physician, Eugene Hickman, MD. His unpublished memoir includes a chapter titled “House Hunting While Black”:

My major problem in Oakland was with housing…I would phone all numbers regarding places within a radius that would afford reasonable access to the hospital where I was going to work. I was up front with my racial identity, after which I would summarize my credentials, etc. The response was always the same: “I am very sure you would be a very desirable member of our community, but we promised our neighbors we would not rent or sell to Negroes.”

After several frustrating months, someone informed me of a place in Berkeley where I could go and apply for one of the homes that had been condemned to make way for the Grove-Shafter Freeway [California Highway 24]. We obtained an old house on 53rd St, near Children’s Hospital. I was then able to move our family here. Then we began the search for a permanent residence. My wife would go out with an agent during the day while I was working; the children were not yet in school. Some idiots frequently mistook my wife for a southern European. One agent…suggested that if I wanted to see the house, I should come around after dark.

And if that wasn’t discouraging enough, Dr. Hickman experienced discrimination about his choice of a job from an unexpected source. The Sinkler-Miller Medical Association in Oakland (named in honor of two outstanding black physicians) accepted him for membership, but insisted on characterizing him “as some sort of traitor to the black physician community” because of his affiliation with Kaiser Permanente.

 

Dr. Simmons’ personal story is a tribute to persistence and vision overcoming adversity. Although we have come a long way in building social justice, there is always more to do – and pioneers such as Dr. Simmons inspire and guide us.

 

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2l4yt05

 

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Male nursing pioneers

posted on May 5, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

May 6-16, 2016, is National Nurses Week.

 

"Larry [Rowe] Gerry [Beideck] and Ricky [Mosqueda]: a first for Kaiser" 1970 KFSN yearbook. First male enrolled students.

“Larry [Rowe] Gerry [Beideck] and Ricky [Mosqueda]: a first for Kaiser” 1970 KFSN yearbook. First male enrolled students.

Caption in the 1970 Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing yearbook: “Larry, Gerry and Ricky: a first for Kaiser.”

Larry Rowe, Gerry Beideck, and Ricky (Ricardo Pangilinan) Mosqueda were groundbreakers in the 1970 class of the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing, which operated between 1947 and 1976. As the first enrolled male students, they were pioneers in a traditionally female nursing profession.

After World War II, a national shortage of nurses prompted Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield, MD, to create a school in 1947.

Frances P. Bolton (1885-1977) was the first Ohio woman elected to Congress and an advocate for gender and racial desegregation of military nursing units. She introduced the 1949 Bolton Act (H.R. 9398) which provided for the appointment of male citizens as nurses in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Six years later, Lieutenant Edward T. Lyon was commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps in 1955.

A December, 1959, article in The Modern Hospital titled “Mr. R.N. Is Wanted on the Nursing Team” repeated the need for more and diverse nurses. “Hospital authorities are wondering how long a nation with a critical shortage of nurses can afford such an outworn notion as thinking of nursing as ‘woman’s work’,” stating that 97.6 percent of the nursing workforce was female and that only 225 male students a year were graduating from nursing schools.

KFSN class of 1972 yearbook photo Ricardo "Ricky" Mosqueda, senior

KFSN class of 1972 yearbook photo Ricardo “Ricky” Mosqueda, senior

Sadly, not all pioneers made it from the classroom to the hospital room. By 1972, KFSN students Larry and Gerry had dropped out, but Ricky graduated. For reasons unknown, he didn’t complete his California state board examinations, and we don’t know which career path he chose after that.

The growth in numbers of male nurses is a welcome diversification in staffing. A 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation article pointed out that “Patients are much more receptive to health care providers of similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and that may well translate to gender as well.” And to support those professionals, the American Association for Men in Nursing offers trainings, scholarships and resources.

One example of supporting exceptional efforts is Kaiser Permanente’s Extraordinary Nurse Award Program, which complements existing regional recognition programs and honors nurses that demonstrate all six of the Kaiser Permanente nursing values: professionalism, patient and family centric, compassion, teamwork, excellence and integrity. This year, there are two male winners out of 11 total – Victor Falle, RN, of the Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu, and John Kirk Phillips, RN, of the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center.

As of 2015, 17.3 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s nurses are men. And we are proud to have male nursing leaders throughout regional and national level positions, including Gregory A. Adams, who was recently appointed Group President to lead all Kaiser Permanente regions.

 

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

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Jack Slater – early diversity in Kaiser Permanente communications

posted on February 25, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

Reporter 1968-11

Jack Slater, KP Reporter, November, 1968

Last year Kaiser Permanente celebrated the 70th anniversary of opening our health plan to the public. And Ebony, the influential pictorial news magazine celebrating African-American life and culture, also turned 70 years old last year. This Black History month we celebrate one of Ebony’s writers (later an associate editor), a talented young man who got his professional start as editor of two Kaiser Permanente publications.

The November, 1968, issue of the KP Reporter carried this announcement:

Jack Slater has joined the Northern California Region’s Public Relations department in Oakland where, in addition to other duties, he will edit the publications Planning for Health and the K-P Reporter.

Mr. Slater was formerly associated with Addison-Wesley Publishing Company as a copy editor of textbooks. Prior that affiliation, he served on the staff of the Philadelphia Board of Education as a curriculum editor.

A 1958 graduate in journalism, Mr. Slater received his degree from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Mr. Slater was only at Kaiser Permanente a year before moving on to a newly created position in the Chancellor’s office at the University of California at Berkeley. By 1971 he was an editor of the Journal of Educational Change at UC Berkeley.

Slater cancer- det

Jack Slater article in Ebony, November, 1979

Within a couple of years Mr. Slater was writing for the influential African-American magazines Ebony and Jet. Some of his first Ebony articles were subjects close to home. “The Guard Changes in Berkeley” covered the radical electoral victories where two African Americans were elected to the city council on the April Coalition slate. Another, “Putting Soul into Science: Black nuclear chemist searches for elusive superheavy elements,” profiled UC Berkeley Lawrence Livermore scientist James A. Harris.

Mr. Slater’s Ebony articles also covered important health issues affecting the African-American community, including “Hypertension: Biggest Killer of Blacks” (June, 1973) and “The Terrible Rise of Cancer among Blacks” (November, 1979).

During the 1980s and 1990s Mr. Slater also wrote for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, California, Essence, Emmy, and Rolling Stone. In 1993 he wrote a book on Malcolm X for the Cornerstones of Freedom young adult book series.

Nothing is known of Mr. Slater after the 1990s, but we are proud that such a gifted and passionate writer was part of the Kaiser Permanente communications family.

 

 Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1XP6VJ6

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The Home Front story behind “The Finest Hours” film

posted on January 6, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

Newly launched T2 tanker at Kaiser Swan Island shipyard

Newly launched T2 tanker at Kaiser Swan Island shipyard being towed to outfitting dock, 1944. Still from “We Build Tankers” documentary film. [See endnote]

The Finest Hours is a major motion picture (release date: January 29, 2016) about the heroic 1952 Coast Guard rescue of sailors from two stricken oil tankers off the storm-swept Cape Cod coast. The events depicted are dramatic and true. Less dramatic, although equally true, is the rich World War II home front story of one of those broken tankers, the SS Pendleton. [For more on the phenomenon of World War II merchant ship problems, see followup essay “In defense of Henry J. Kaiser’s World War II ship quality“]

The Pendleton was the 49th “T2” model tanker built at the Kaiser Swan Island shipyard, on the Willamette River in Portland, Ore. T2s were the largest “navy oilers” of their time, just over 500 feet in length and displacing 21,100 tons when fully laden. Their holds could carry nearly 6 million gallons of oil or gasoline. The ship was named for the rural Oregon town of Pendleton, host of the Pendleton Round-Up – one of the largest and most prestigious rodeos in the world. It’s the real deal, held almost continuously since 1910.

The Bo's'n's Whistle 1944-02-11

Chief Willie Wo-Cat-Se and his interpreter, Chief Anthony Redhawk

The Pendleton’s launch ceremony was a tribute to Native Americans engaged in war production. It is estimated that during the war as many as 40,000 Native American men and women left their reservations for the first time to find jobs in defense industries across the nation.

When she slid down the ways on January 21, 1944, the event was considered one of the most colorful ever staged in those yards. The sponsor of the Pendleton was Princess Melissa Parr, a full-blooded Cayuse Indian and direct descendant of Chief Joseph. Chief Willie Wo-Cat-Se from Pendleton expressed his appreciation for the naming of the tanker. Chief Anthony Redhawk was his interpreter.

A two-page spread in the weekly shipyard magazine The Bos’n’s Whistle described the launching:

Indians in striking regalia staged war dances and beat their drums on the launching platform. Melissa Parr, descendant of Chief Joseph, was the sponsor, with Ramona Minthorn, matron of honor; Thelma Parr, maid of honor; and Vernita McKay, flower girl. Willie Wo-Cat-Se, Pendleton Round-Up chief, was a speaker. Indian workers of the yard were honored guests at the launching and the luncheon which followed. The yard took on a real Western flavor during the day, with Indian tepees drawing crowds of interested spectators. Rear Admiral Howard L. Vickery of the Maritime Commission made the principal address at the launching ceremonies.

The Bo's'n's Whistle 1944-02-11

Princess Melissa Parr

An audio recording in the Kaiser Permanente heritage archives lets us hear the praise offered for the diversity of the shipyard workforce:

Gathered here on the platform below, as special guests today, are Indians from various tribes of the Northwest. A good many of them work here in the yards and play an important part in the production of our tankers…We feel that this occasion, in honor of American Indians, is proper not only in view of their vast contribution on the battle front and the production front, but also in view of the fact that the American Indian was actually the first ship builder in the Northwest.

The Bo's'n's Whistle 1944-02-11

Indian dancer Robert Williams

Too often the American Indian is not sufficiently thought of when we speak of the various nationalities and races living harmoniously in America, yet they have shown that great attribute – forgiveness.

Reports of courage and skill of the American Indians in our armed forces is well known to us all. Their bravery has set an example to the most daring.

In this area, there are more than one thousand Indians contributing their skill and effort in the building of ships. Here, again, their performance ranks among the finest…The Indians, our first Americans, are still leading Americans.

 

It is unlikely that those shipwrecked sailors or the brave Coast Guard crew in 1952 knew of their vessel’s rich creation history, but the human spirit baked into that practical slab of steel was part of the SS Pendleton’s stirring story arc.

 

Audio link: (partial clip available online, identity of announcer is unknown)

“Launch recording #148-149” S.S. Pendleton, 1/21/1944: A tribute to Native Americans engaged in war production Rev. Earl Cochran–Invocation. Mr. Sprague H. Carter, Mayor of Pendleton. Pendleton Roundup Quartet singing medleys of cowboy songs. Bob Williams and Goose Williams –Native American dance, songs and speeches. Mr. Kaiser Introduces Admiral Vickery. Admiral Vickery–History of Swan Island. Rev. Earl Cochran–Invocation. Tom Hoxie–burning of the plates.

Endnote:

I clipped the image of the tanker being towed by a tug from the Kaiser Companies film “We Build Tankers.” and after looking at it in detail have learned the following:
1. The film shows two different tankers being launched – the SS Grand Teton, launched August 1, 1944, and the SS Fort Matanzas, launched July 11, 1944. The film doesn’t identify the ships by name, but these names are visible on the bows.
2. The ship being towed has no name on the bow. That was standard protocol – the names were painted out after launching, and never had them during war service for security reasons. So, we don’t know which, if either, of these two ships (or it could have been a third) are in that still.
3. The tug is the James W, of Portland’s Shaver Transportation Company, still in business and proud to be part of this history.

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

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