Posts Tagged ‘health care reform’

Southern California pediatrician’s career parallels KP’s quest for best

posted on April 18, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Last in a series

Sam Sapin, MD, Southern California Permanente Medical Group quality pioneer

The story of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California could not be told better than through the life and career of Sam Sapin, a pediatric cardiologist who joined the medical group in Los Angeles in 1955. Sapin, a New York City transplant with a slight accent reminiscent of his roots, could have had a lucrative career taking care of wealthy patients in his native city. He had a thriving practice on Park Avenue before choosing to migrate to California.

He was lured to Los Angeles after hearing from friends about an innovative, albeit fledgling, group of doctors with a philosophy quite different from his fee-for-service colleagues in New York. Rendering proper and compassionate care to patients without having to consider their ability to pay sounded good to Sapin. So good, in fact, that after one brief visit to the West Coast, he and his wife, Jean, with their two small children, picked up and moved.

In the course of six decades associated with KP, Sapin has seen unimaginable changes, played many roles and helped to nurture the health plan’s phenomenal growth in membership, reputation, and influence in Southern California and in all its regions.

He’s had his hand in establishing and expanding programs in physician and patient education and research; he’s been influential in the creation and refining of quality assessment and improvement systems; and he’s been a trailblazer in KP efforts to ensure appropriate use of medical technology.

LA Center for Medical Education honors Sapin

Sapin received an Excellence in Medical Education Award in 2011 from the Thomas F. Godfrey Center for Medical Education. He was honored for his lifetime achievements, especially in promoting physician education.1  In presenting the award, retired director of the center and fellow pediatrician KP Rudy Brody said: “Over the years no one has done more for Kaiser Permanente to advance medical education, research and quality than Sam.

“He was co-founder in 1955 and a long-standing member of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group’s (SCPMG) Pediatric Symposium Committee (which celebrated its 50th symposium in 2008). Most importantly, Sam was a member of the Center for Medical Education’s Advisory Committee (1999 to present) that guided the center through its initial years.”

These accomplishments are really just frosting on the cake for Sapin whose main career focus has been to take care of newborns and older children with heart problems. His decades-long efforts in this realm have entailed finding groundbreaking ways to repair congenital problems so his often tiny patients could live healthier and sometimes completely normal lives.

In 1981, Sapin was the KP Southern California medical group's director of Research and Education.

As KP physicians have always been encouraged to do, Sapin quickly associated himself with academia and conducted and published research throughout his career, as recently as 2005.

“Shortly after I joined the group I applied for a teaching appointment at Children’s Hospital, just across the street, but I was never accepted, nor rejected, because I was one of those ‘Kaiser’ doctors,” Sapin said recently. “I then drove across town to UCLA, where I was welcomed, became an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Cardiology, and eventually, a clinical professor.

Setting up pediatric cardiac ‘cath’ lab

“I was able to take our pediatric patients to UCLA, perform cardiac catheterizations, and have their cardiac surgery done there. In 1957, Pete Mahrer, Mt. Sinai trained (as Sapin was), joined our group.The two of us set up a small cath (cardiac catheterization) lab at Sunset (KP Los Angeles Medical Center). The equipment was kept in a closet and rolled out into an X-ray room when available.

“We put on our red glasses half-hour before the procedure, to be able to see the fluoroscope in the dark. Pete helped me with the pediatric cases, and I helped him with the adults,” he said. In 1960, a diagnostic cardiac catheterization laboratory for pediatric and adult patients was opened at Panorama City, and Sapin served as director until 1982.

Sapin took on administrative duties when he became the chief of pediatrics at Panorama City in 1959. But he didn’t give up his practice, a decision he never regretted. “Fortunately, for me, I was able to practice until I was fully retired in 2000.”

As chief of pediatrics, Sapin founded the first Kaiser Permanente nurse practitioner program in 1964 and at one point oversaw the training of nurse practitioners. He held the chief position until 1972 when SCPMG Medical Director T. Hart Baker appointed him regional director of the Department of Education and Research, a department created to manage the growing education and research programs funded by the Community Services Fund.

In accepting his lifetime achievement award last year, Sapin recalled: “Seeing patients was very gratifying. On the other hand, my administrative career could sometimes be frustrating. Physicians, who’ve been trained to be problem-solvers and independent operators, can be resistant to change.

“Let me read to you, from a brief memo, which Dr. T. Hart Baker, our medical director at the time, sent out to doctors in May 1972:

“ ‘Dr. Sam Sapin has been appointed director of Research and Education. . . The location of his office and his telephone number will be forwarded to you as soon as a suitable location is found.’

“What I’d like to read to you now is the comment of some anonymous person – presumably a physician – who sent the memo back to me with the following suggestion scribbled on the back of it, in red ink, about a suitable location for my office, it read: ‘On Edgemont, behind garage at 1226 apartment house – go thru back yard, but beware of German Shepherd dog. (Go) up to second story – above chicken coops – and past the old EKG labs.

“Turn left, then right, knock twice and say Marshal. If a short fellow scratching his cheeks answers, turn back, you’re in Fontana! P.S. Dress at this office is casual – jeans and old shirt – since only orange crates and dirty Zolotone boxes are available for desks. Boots are a must, until the exterminators are through. Bring your own Xerox machine, since our last one fell through the loose floorboard. Also, a cheerleader’s megaphone will come in handy for long distance calls.”

Growth of research and education spawns new department

In 1982, Sapin was appointed SCPMG's associate medical director of Clinical Services.

In 1982, newly appointed SCPMG Medical Director Frank Murray founded another new department – the Department of Clinical Services – which subsumed Sapin’s responsibilities concerning research, education and quality. Murray appointed Sapin associate medical director of Clinical Services, which soon included divisions of research, staff training and medical manpower, quality of care, quality of service and appropriate use of technology.

In 1983, Sapin beefed up KP Southern California’s preventive medicine program by requiring each medical center to offer a core health education curriculum addressing chronic conditions and healthy lifestyle issues. Also as Clinical Services leader, Sapin formalized the Inter-Area Chiefs of Service Groups and required chiefs in all specialties to convene four to six times a year. “I thought this structure was essential to assure the delivery of a comparable quality of care throughout the region.”

By 1990, Sapin had served on the SCPMG board of directors for 16 years, as an elected representative from 1957 to 1966 and as a regional associate medical director from 1982 to 1990. He had won the respect of his physician colleagues and the adoration of his patients. In his last years before retirement from the medical group administration, Sapin had several invitations to size up his career and the changes he’d seen. One such opportunity was to speak before the annual meeting of the American Group Practice Association in Minneapolis in 1989.

What makes a successful prepaid group practice?

Rather than speaking just from his perspective, Sapin surveyed his SCPMG colleagues and presented the results in his talk titled “Managed Care – What Works in Groups.”

The survey identified six KP success factors: 1) integrated care design with doctors making medical decisions and KP owning its own hospitals; 2) people with a social purpose and ethics, commitment to high quality and peer review; 3) innovation, long-term planning, nonprofit financing plan, comprehensive care and affordable rates.

Sapin’s list continues: 4) ability to control costs due to ownership of facilities, purchasing power and physician extenders (nurse practitioners, etc.); 5) support from labor, business, academia and government; 6) reputation as a strong organization that is always there to provide care for significant illness. 3

Sapin, a tireless KP defender and passionate believer, summed it all up for his audience: “The right people with a good idea at the right time.”

In 1992 when health care reform was hugely topical and Sapin was retired and consulting for Clinical Services, KP quality leader Sharon Conrow asked him to draft what he thought Kaiser Permanente’s reform position should be. Sapin didn’t hesitate.

“I said, one, I think it should be a single-payer system . . . eliminating the fee-for-service idea. That it would be essentially the model that we have now, but with (ways to address) some of the things we had problems with. For example, when it comes to new technology, what should we invest in?” Sapin recounted recently.

“Now (2012), my recommendation for reform is to duplicate the Kaiser Permanente model. That’s what I’ve been saying. The more I’ve been looking and thinking about this, and all these intrinsic, built-in things that make us have to provide better care based on all the evidence, and so on, (the best structure for effective reform) is the model that we’ve built.”

KP sticks to original HMO model

Kaiser Permanente is the one and only health maintenance organization (HMO), the only managed care organization that fits the original and the current HMO definition, Sapin says. As conceived in 1971 by Paul M. Ellwood, Jr., famed health policy expert, an HMO consists of a multi-specialty group practice whose doctors contract with a nonprofit health plan to take care of patients on a prepaid basis.

Ellwood, who has influenced national health policy over the decades, is frustrated by the lack of progress on the health reform front. He said he originally intended HMOs to be nonprofit entities and to include structure to ensure accountability for quality of care as well as to contain costs, the main objective in the early 1970s as well as today.

“What went wrong?” Ellwood asks rhetorically in his 2011 oral history. His answer: “Political expediency in the initial plan designed to promote HMO growth led to the inclusion of three mistakes: for-profit plans, independent practice associations, and the failure to include outcome accountability.”

Ellwood’s sad assessment gives credence to Sapin’s argument that KP stands out as the model. Ellwood says of Kaiser Permanente and its pioneering physician Sidney Garfield: “Sid Garfield’s plan is 80 years old but it is still the gold standard.” 4

 

1 The Center for Medical Education was founded at the KP Los Angeles Medical Center in October 1999. The center offers continuing education, residency and fellowship programs and rotations for residents and fellows from nearby medical schools. Its advisory committee draws members from the community as well as SCPMG.

2 Sapin earned his MD from the New York University College of Medicine and completed a rotating internship at Mt. Sinai Hospital and his residency in internal medicine at the U.S. Veterans’ Hospital, both New York institutions. He took his internship in pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital in New York and his residency in pediatric cardiology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.

3 “Managed Care – What works in groups 1989 – A case study of successful HMOs,” Samuel O. Sapin, MD, presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Group Practice Association, Minneapolis, Sept. 15, 1989

4 “Paul M. Ellwood, Jr., MD, In First Person: An Oral History,” American Hospital Association, Center for Hospital and Healthcare Administration History and Health Research & Educational Trust, 2011

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

James Vohs: Kaiser Permanente missionary and defender of core values

posted on September 20, 2010
Jim Vohs

By Ginny McPartland
When we talk about quality of care today, the name “Jim Vohs” inevitably comes up. That’s because many Kaiser Permanente (KP) people have heard of the annual James A.Vohs Award for Quality. It’s a great honor to receive the Vohs award, and every year since 1997 people across the program have pulled out all stops to garner the coveted distinction for quality improvement projects. But fewer people know the story of James A. Vohs, the man behind the name, and why he is associated with quality assurance.

Jim Vohs was an early health plan leader, a champion of prepaid, group medical practice, a believer in strong partnerships between health plans and the medical groups, and an adamant advocate for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals as nonprofit institutions that provide quality, affordable health care.

Right out of Berkeley High School in 1946, Vohs first worked as a “mail boy” for a Kaiser Industries unit called Kaiser Services, where his mother worked as a bookkeeper. After his graduation from UC Berkeley in 1952, he rejoined Kaiser Services, which provided administrative support for the various Kaiser industrial companies, like Kaiser Steel, Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Engineers.

With his career blossoming, he shocked his Kaiser Services colleagues by choosing to switch to the nonprofit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in 1957 because he believed in its principles. It was a good choice. During a 50-plus year career, he rose to become President and CEO as well as the first chairman of Foundation Health Plans and Hospitals boards of directors who was not a Kaiser family member, succeeding Edgar F. Kaiser, Henry J. Kaiser’s son.

Quality a big priority

Quality of care was an issue early on in the life of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program. Detractors of prepaid, group practice were quite happy to spread rumors about how Kaiser Permanente doctors were not qualified or competent and that their patients were “captives” of no choice.

Vohs was very much aware that these attacks contributed to a “poor reputation,” however wrong, in KP’s early days. Even the prevailing attitude at Kaiser Services was that the medical care program was an “embarrassment.”

Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente was early and quick in its efforts to show the skeptical world evidence of its excellent care. Early physicians published research that showcased their innovative treatment, sponsored medical symposiums, aligned themselves with academic medicine, and kept their heads down when the insults were hurled.

Reputation aside, Jim Vohs had faith in the high caliber of Permanente physicians, and he bravely faced critics who implied Permanente cut corners in medical treatment. “It is quite clear to me that the economic incentive . . . for the program and the participating physicians —who by and large spend their careers (with Permanente) — is to resolve medical problems as promptly and completely as possible,” Vohs told an interviewer in 1983.

Documenting quality of care

Today’s medical quality movement got its start with the creation of the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals in 1952. The federal government started requiring quality data following the adoption of Medicare for the retired and Medicaid for the poor in 1965. The American Hospital Association published its Quality Assurance for Medical Care in the Hospital in 1972. The HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) act of 1973 required each federally qualified HMO to have an internal quality assurance program.

In 1974, Kaiser Permanente physicians from all regions started meeting regularly to discuss quality related issues, and Vohs established a department of quality and a board of directors committee on quality assurance. The committee, including Vohs, made site visits to each of the regions several times a year.

In 1979, Drs. Leonard Rubin and Sam Sapin served on an advisory committee that set up the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), which sets standards for HMOs. The Permanente physicians were successful in getting the committee to adopt a problem-focused approach to quality assessment, which Rubin had developed and tested starting in 1967.

By 1983, Kaiser Permanente was getting good reviews. Dr. Sapin reports: “Almost without exception, published reports comparing health care delivery by Kaiser Permanente physicians to others have shown us to be better than or at least equal to others.”

Vohs award perpetual trophy. Symbol of unity.

Vohs is proud of having the quality award as part of his legacy: “It’s so important for Kaiser Permanente. The regions are competing for the award; they are supporting programs in quality because they want to win that award.”

Vohs a key player in KP milestones

Throughout the years, Vohs played a key role in many of the milestones of Kaiser Permanente’s history. Each chapter helped to make Kaiser Permanente stronger and more capable of providing high quality care.

• Passing of the Federal Employees Benefits Act in 1959. This legislation was heavily influenced by Kaiser Permanente leaders who urged Congress to include a choice of fee-for-service and prepaid medical plans. Kaiser Permanente gained many members as a result.

• Passing of the HMO Act of 1973. Kaiser Permanente leaders also heavily influenced this legislation. They worked with Health, Education and Welfare Agency officials to develop a proposal for a per-person or capitation method of Medicare reimbursement for health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which became part of the act.

• Formalizing Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) and Affirmative Action practices in the 1960s and 1970s. Opening a Kaiser Permanente EEO conference in 1976, Vohs reaffirmed Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to the employment of minorities and women. He reported an increase of minority and women employees from 4,600 in March 1974 to 5,084 a year later, almost one third of the total work force at the time. Women held 56 percent of the management or supervisory positions in 1975, up 2 percent from 1975; minorities held 14 percent of the top jobs in 1975, compared to 13 percent a year earlier.

Vohs affirmed KP’s historical “one-door, one-class” system of health care dating back to 1945. “Each member is entitled to necessary medical care of the same quality, in the same place, irrespective of income, race, religion or age. Given this policy, it would make little sense if we were to discriminate in our employment practices.”

• Partnership and eventual takeover of the Georgetown Health Plan strategically located in Washington, D.C. This medical care program provided the springboard for the creation of our Mid-Atlantic States region.

• Convening a meeting among health plan and medical group leaders in 1996 to re-confirm the principles of the historic 1955 Tahoe Agreement. The earlier agreement set up the business relationship and clear authorities for the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals leadership and the Southern and Northern California medical groups. Forty years later, the outcomes of “Tahoe II” were the National Partnership Agreement and the creation of the physicians’ Permanente Federation, which represents all regional medical groups in dealings with the health plan leadership.

Kaiser Permanente on a mission

An able administrator, Vohs believed in the health plan: “There was a sense of commitment to a program that was performing social good and demonstrating a way of providing care and financing that was important to the country.”

Vohs firmly dispatched any insinuation that Kaiser Permanente was like for-profit health plans: “Over the years, Kaiser Permanente has been driven by particular values that essentially relate to providing quality medical care to enrolled members for a fixed monthly premium. We don’t conceive of ourselves as a commercial enterprise,” Vohs told John K. Iglehart of Health Affairs in 1983. Quoted in a New York Times article “King of the HMO Mountain” the same year, Vohs added: “There’s a certain missionary zeal in what we’re doing. We think this is a good model for the way in which medical care ought to be organized – so we want to see it spread.”

The Southern California Region’s Proactive Office Encounter (POE), which promotes preventive care, and the California regions’ programs to prevent heart attacks and strokes, were awarded the 2009 Vohs Awards earlier this year. The Fall 2010 issue of the Permanente Journal carries an article about the POE.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Replacing ‘Sick Care’ with ‘Health Care:’ Dr. Sidney Garfield’s Ideas in the National Reform Dialogue

posted on April 5, 2010

By Tom Debley, Director, Heritage Resources

It was fascinating to me to research and write a book about the life of Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Sidney R. Garfield, but it has become even more so to observe how visionary he was in his time as discussion continues in the wake of President Obama’s signature on health care reform.

Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, a surgeon, co-founded prevention-focused Kaiser Permanente with industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.

A month ago, I wrote a blog about Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, who argued in the pages of Business Week that health care needs business models like Kaiser Permanente—health care systems in which doctors and insurers are on the same side of the ledger as the patient. I observed that this was an idea Dr. Garfield put forward as the model for Kaiser Permanente in a speech in Portland, Oregon 65 years ago Sunday (April 4).

This Monday (April 5), I was struck by a quote in an article by Robert Pear in the New York Times.

“We don’t have a health care system in America,” said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate health committee. “We have a sick care system. If you get sick, you get care. But precious little is spent to keep people healthy in the first place.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, visiting World War II Home Front patient, asked Dr. Sidney R. Garfield to tell her about prevention-focused medical care.

Harkin’s statement is an interesting juxtaposition with an event exactly 67 years earlier—April 5, 1943—when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited a World War II Kaiser Industries shipyard worker, a woman with a seriously injured left leg, as shipyard manager Edgar F. Kaiser looked on in Vancouver, Washington.

Whatever Mrs. Roosevelt heard about Dr. Garfield’s focus on injury and illness prevention efforts as he built the largest civilian medical care program on the Home Front of World War II, she was immediately intrigued. Returning to the White House, she dictated a note to Dr. Garfield, “I am interested in getting medical care, both preventive and curative, at the least cost to the people. What is your program on the preventive side?”

“Your expression of interest in preventive medicine is rather closely allied with our thoughts for medical care,” Dr. Garfield responded in a letter detailing his ideas.

What Dr. Garfield did on the Home Front is, of course, one of the historical stories told at the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.

Dr. Garfield spent his whole professional life on these ideas. It was not easy, but his vision was central to the evolution of Kaiser Permanente as—in Dr. Garfield’s words—a “total health” system of care.

In the first 15 years of toil after World War II, Dr. Garfield’s big frustration was how challenging it was to move from a “sick plan” to a “health plan,” but he never gave up. His big breakthrough came 50 years ago next month, and I will write about that story in a blog in May.

In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about Dr. Garfield, my book, “The Story of Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: The Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care,” is available from the publisher, The Permanente Press, as well as from Amazon.com in both book form and on Kindle.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Garfield Biographer Speaks at the Commonwealth Club

posted on August 27, 2009
Photo by Joe Paolazzi

Photo by Joe Paolazzi

Dr. Sidney Garfield’s childhood dream of being an architect was shattered when his Jewish Russian immigrant parents insisted he become a doctor. Little did the young Garfield know that his destiny was not only to become a doctor but also to blaze trails few others had even dared to ponder.

Indeed, 25 years after Garfield’s death, President Barack Obama points to the medical care program Garfield founded as a model for 21st Century health care reform, author Tom Debley said in his talk to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Aug. 25.

Debley, author of a new Garfield biography, described the extraordinary life of the pioneering Kaiser Permanente doctor in the book, Dr. Sidney R Garfield: the Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care.  “Most people know very little of Sidney Garfield, and I try to remedy this with my book (written in collaboration with Jon Stewart),” Debley told the crowd.

Debley recounted Garfield’s 20th Century journey from his birth in 1906 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the 1950s and 1960s battles to gain acceptance for a different type of medical care.

Garfield’s formula for the best health care emphasized ways to keep people free of disease and thus not needing sick care. In 1933, Garfield found he could provide affordable care to the workers on the Colorado River aqueduct project by collecting weekly dues to cover all members whether they required care or not.

“After nearly going broke, Garfield linked two ideas from the debate of his era – prepayment and prevention – in a way that reversed medical economics,” Debley, director of Heritage Resources for Kaiser Permanente,  told the Commonwealth Club audience.

“In 1938, he joined forces with (industrialist Henry J) Kaiser and his son Edgar at the construction site of the Grand Coulee Dam. Here Garfield added the ideas of group medical practice, facilities under one roof, and a family plan,” Debley said.

In the War years, Garfield reunited with the Kaisers to provide medical care for workers in Kaiser’s Pacific Coast shipyards and the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California. “In a mere 18 months, he and his colleagues opened four hospitals and built the largest civilian medical care program on the Home Front of World War II.”

When the War ended in 1945, Garfield and Kaiser were able to keep their health plan alive by opening up to the public and taking care of union members such as the longshoremen and the steel workers.  Soon enough, the University of California, public schools, other government and large employers picked up Kaiser Permanente care for their employees.

“Sidney Garfield was a doer – his is a classic American story – a man passionate about his calling and determined in his quest. Like his ideas or not, he and Henry Kaiser brought health care to millions of Americans – more than any two individuals I can think of in American history,” Debley told the group.

But, wait, the story isn’t over yet.  In the 1950s when Garfield’s run as medical director ended, he resurrected his youthful fantasy to be a builder. Garfield created designs for new Kaiser Permanente hospitals that won him national acclaim.

“Three hospitals opened in 1953 –in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, and Los Angeles – were labeled ‘dream hospitals.’ Dr. Walter C. Alvarez, perhaps America’s most famous physician of the era, told broadcaster Lowell Thomas:  ‘A new day has dawned, where more brains will go into the design and architecture of a hospital.’

“Newscaster Chet Huntley reported: “The use of labor-saving devices, the use of light (both natural and artificial), the gadgets, the décor, and the  personnel are all combined to make the new (Los Angeles) Kaiser Foundation Hospital something special,’ ”  Debley said.

Still, Garfield was not done.  In 1960, he insisted Kaiser Permanente embrace the computer whose development was in its infancy. “Garfield saw computers as a component of a ‘total health’ system of care,” Debley noted. Garfield’s early vision has allowed Kaiser Permanente to become an international leader in the field of electronic medical records and other IT systems.

All in a day’s work for Sidney Garfield.

 – Ginny McPartland

 

To order your copy of Debley’s book, Dr. Sidney R Garfield: the Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care, go to The Permanente Press.

To view the talk on FORA.tv, go to Commonwealth Club.

Tags: , , , ,

Dr. Sidney Garfield: His Ideas at Center of Health Care Debate

posted on August 19, 2009

A recent PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer opened with this quote from President Barack Obama: “There are examples of how we can make the entire health care system more efficient. …What works? The Mayo Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic. Geisinger. Kaiser Permanente. There are health systems around the country that actually have costs that are as much as 20 percent or 30 percent lower than the national average and have higher quality. What is it that they are doing differently from other systems?”

Added correspondent Betty Ann Bowser: “What they are doing is providing excellent care at a low cost through an integrated system where doctors visits, tests, surgery, hospital care – the works – are all done under one roof.”

I will use this to lead off a talk at the Commonwealth Club of California on Tuesday (August 25) in San Francisco because there was little in the 10-minute report that said anything different from what Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, co-founder of Kaiser Permanente, said back in the 1930s – including his idea to put all needed care “under one roof.”

As author of The Story of Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: The Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care, the theme of my talk will be “The Long Quest for Health Care Reform: A Bay Area Doctor’s Belief in Health Care as a Right.” I will trace the story of Dr. Garfield’s life because so much less is known about him than his co-founder, Henry J. Kaiser.

The evening program begins with a 5:30 p.m. reception; program at 6 p.m. Tickets are $8 for members; $15 for nonmembers. Get tickets.

– Tom Debley

Tags: , , , , ,

Kaiser Permanente: Seeds Planted Amid Rancorous 1930s Health Care Debate

posted on August 7, 2009
falk35Isidore “Ig” Falk was a 20th Century hero. But I’m guessing most of you have never heard of him. Am I right? Falk was a major figure in the 1930s to 1980s discussion of how health care should be organized in America. He was the head
of research for the Committee for the Costs of Medical Care (CCMC), whose voluminous report was published in 1932.

Falk, educated at Yale with a PhD in Public Health, was largely responsible for writing the committee’s recommendations that called for prepaid group practice and integrated health care in America. The committee said that fee-for-service health care should continue to exist, but that in some fashion, quality health care should be made accessible to everyone, rich, poor, and in-between. The committee majority figured that prevention of illness, like public education, was good for the country, as well as for the common man.

Sidney R. Garfield—A Grass Roots Approach

As Ig Falk pursued these ideals on a national scale, another of my heroes—Sidney R Garfield—was busy putting these ideas into practice on a grass roots level. Born in humble circumstances, Garfield attended medical school at his parents’ insistence and was out to make a living in California during the Great Depression.

For all the right reasons, Falk spent a good chunk of his life advocating for the principles embodied in the committee recommendations. Alas, due to political circumstances, i.e., charges that he was pushing socialized medicine, and a lack of public understanding and support, Falk didn’t succeed in achieving prepaid, coordinated medical care for all Americans. (He’s still a hero in my book.)

Sidney Garfield took care of industrial workers in the California desert on a fee-for-service basis. He soon realized he couldn’t make it if he waited for the patients to come to him. So he made a deal with the workers’ insurance company to pay him in advance for the workers health care. Voila! Prepaid health care that was affordable and sustainable.

Garfield’s Troubles Begin

With the help of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, Garfield enhanced and refined his methods of health care delivery and brought them to the World War II home front, and in 1945 introduced his brand of care to the public. That’s when his troubles really began.

Like Falk, Garfield had to fight. He had to fight to keep himself out of jail and in the business of taking care of people. Not only did they call him a socialist or communist, his opponents said he was violating medical ethics, and he was brought up on charges for running a group practice. Anyone who tried to join Garfield’s medical group was scorned by their peers and warned against ruining their careers by being associated with this renegade doctor.

Fortunately, Garfield did not fail. Yay! Amid all the obstacles, Garfield kept it together and with the support of organized labor and physicians in academic medicine, today his legacy lives on in Kaiser Permanente. He’s the fellow who pushed his colleagues to get into computers in the early 1960s. He’s the one who pushed the idea that if you screened patients for signs of early chronic illness, you could slow down or stop the advance of disease.

A Great Model of Health Care

Garfield is my hero because he persisted in his mission to keep his modest plan alive. He won myriad battles and left us Kaiser Permanente as one of the U.S. models of health care that works. I’m personally glad because I’m one of the lucky ones who have good, no great, health care.

One period of my life when I wasn’t a member of Kaiser Permanente, I sought a mammogram, a vital preventive screening for women. I picked a radiologist out of a network book and I had the exam. Up to a year later, I was still receiving past due notices that my insurance had not paid the claim.

In contrast, in the past two months, I’ve received several letters and phone calls from Kaiser Permanente reminding me that it’s time for a mammogram. When I went in for the exam at a convenient evening hour, my copayment was waived. Somehow I get the feeling that someone is watching over me. Wow!

Health Care Reform Still a Discussion

As I’m sure you know, the people in Washington today are wrangling over health care reform again. Right now the quest for change seems to be stymied by political special interests. Reminiscent of Falk’s time and renewed conversations in the 1940s and the 1990s, transformative change remains elusive. Perhaps a 1997 discussion of Falk’s challenges by Alan Derickson, PhD, in the American Journal of Public Health can help us reach a solution to benefit all Americans:

“If a chorus of demands from many sources were to drown out overheated ideological claims, public discussion might shift to a fuller consideration of human need and the capability of an affluent society to meet it.”

To learn more about Sidney R. Garfield, MD, you can attend a talk by Kaiser Permanente Director of Heritage Resources Tom Debley on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Debley is the author of Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: the Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care. The newly released bookilluminates for the first time the details of Garfield’s professional and personal struggles and triumphs.

Debley’s talk is titled “The Long Quest for Health Care Reform: A Bay Area Doctor’s Belief in Health Care as a Right.” The evening begins with a 5:30 p.m. reception; program at 6 p.m. Tickets are $8 for members; $15 for nonmembers. Get tickets.

- Ginny McPartland

Tags: , , , , ,

President Obama Cites Kaiser Permanente Model; Learn More About Why Aug. 25

posted on July 29, 2009

Time Magazine reporter Karen Tumulty talked July 28 with President Barack Obama about health care reform, with a transcript published on the web July 29. Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Sidney R. Garfield, would have been proud if he were alive to hear the President say, “…If we could actually get our health-care system across the board to hit the efficiency levels of a Kaiser Permanente or a Cleveland Clinic or a Mayo or a Geisinger, we actually would have solved our problems.”

Dr. Garfield would have been proud because his vision on the Home Front of World War II was to build such a system for ordinary Americans. Indeed, it’s interesting, as well, to see Kaiser Permanente in the company of the Mayo Clinic. In 1943, the famed medical science writer Paul DeKruif wrote a book about what Dr. Garfield and Henry J. Kaiser were doing to develop a new model of medical care for working Americans, and nicknamed it the “Mayo Clinic for the common man.”

Interested in learning more about Dr. Garfield and his struggles to bring legitimacy to a revolutionary idea in health care? Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Director Tom Debley, author of the newly released Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: the Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care, will speak on this subject at Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Conversations about Dr. Garfield’s ideas will be nothing new for the Commonwealth Club. As a young man pioneering his prepaid, group practice, Garfield spoke to the club members on two occasions during the war.

Sidney Garfield presented a talk titled “The Permanente Foundation and Shipworkers’ Health” to the Public Health Section of the Commonwealth Club on May 6, 1943. He was engaged again to speak to the club members toward the end of the war (March 22, 1945). The title of his presentation was “A Workable Health Plan on the Basis of Permanente Experience.”

Debley’s talk is titled “The Long Quest for Health Care Reform: A Bay Area Doctor’s Belief in Health Care as a Right.” The evening begins with a 5:30 p.m. reception; program at 6 p.m. Tickets are $8 for members; $15 for nonmembers. For tickets, go to:
https://tickets.commonwealthclub.org/auto_choose_ga.asp?area=1&shcode=1359
- Ginny McPartland

Tags: , , , ,