Posts Tagged ‘John Smillie MD’

Twentieth century stigma retards treatment for addiction

posted on August 27, 2012

By Laura Thomas
Heritage correspondent

First in a series
Despite Kaiser Permanente’s early emphasis on preventive health care, pervasive 20th century American attitudes about alcohol and drug abuse curbed Health Plan leaders’ willingness to tackle addiction as a bona fide treatable illness.

“Very few physicians or even psychiatrists are willing to treat the chronic alcoholic, just as few lawyers go into the specialty of bankruptcy law,”
Paul Gliebe, MD, of the University of California medical school, told Kaiser Permanente physicians in 1953. “The chronic alcoholic is in most instances looked upon as a bankrupt personality.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) was also reluctant to empathize with alcoholics, stopping short of declaring alcoholism a disease in 1956, while encouraging hospitals to admit patients suffering from the symptoms.1

“Since the earliest era, (Kaiser) Permanente (KP) physicians had resisted the idea of comprehensive care for alcoholism, self-inflicted wounds, or other self-induced illness,” the late KP San Francisco pediatrician John Smillie, MD, wrote in his 1991 book, Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care?

This resistance existed despite some early voices in Kaiser Permanente who pointed out what the Permanente organization accepts today – that social and behavioral imbalances lead to disease and the symptoms include addiction and depression, now being recognized as diseases in themselves.

KP psychiatrist Kahn warns addicts need early care

One early KP psychiatrist, Bernard Kahn, MD, sounded an alarm at a Permanente Medical Group planning meeting in Monterey in 1960. From that vantage point, Kahn described the modern, ever-present pressures of managing technology, work and leisure:

“Our national consumption of tranquilizers and alcohol prove we are a nervous nation. Let’s face it: the internist, the surgeon, the general practitioner, our Drop-In (Clinic) physicians are treating this kind of illness – the intangible, aggravating, emotional upsets, day in and day out – regardless of what the Health Plan contract reads.”

Kahn asserted that the Health Plan needed to extend its preventive care to include alcoholics because they would surely develop chronic disease without treatment for their addiction. “(In this area) we’re already too late, and we are covering end-stage disease (caused by alcoholism).”

Dr. Kahn, a retired Navy psychiatrist, was helping to craft a cost-effective and practical psychiatric program, along with The Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) pioneer Morris Collen, MD, in the 1950s. Collen was concerned that traditional psychiatric appointments were too long at 50 minutes and would add unduly to Health Plan costs. He wanted Kahn to develop a program based on a 30-minute appointment. Unfortunately, Kahn died of a heart attack before he could accomplish the task, Dr. Collen said in his 1986 oral history.

KP institutes psychiatry program in late 1950s

In the late 1950s, Kahn and psychologist Nicholas Cummings had been successful in establishing a KP psychiatry program. But treatment for alcoholism and other addictions was kept at arm’s length until it was pushed by the federal government for its employees in 1969, physician leader Raymond Kay, MD, wrote in his 1979 book on the history of the KP Southern California medical group.2

The AMA also took its time to define alcoholism as a disease. It waited until 1967 to declare it a “disease that merits the serious concern of all members of the health professions.” By then, President Lyndon Johnson had publicly called for more study and treatment for alcoholism, and health insurance plans had begun to respond.1

Richard Merrick, MD, then a young internist at KP’s Harbor City Medical Center in Southern California, said he was approached by the department chief in early 1971. “They needed at least one physician from each area to start an alcoholism program.

“There were 12 or 15 doctors in the department at the time and he came to me last because he had been turned down by everyone. There was zero interest at that time in having anything to do with ‘those people’. That was the common mentality at the time.”

Saying ‘no’ to alcohol excess

There was little understanding of the functional alcoholic or socialite imbibing wine, he said, only of the “stinking drunk. There was hardly any concept of addictions being diseases. They were defects of character. It was a matter of choice. These people were ‘bad’ so how could you treat that?” he said.

Dr. Merrick hired a recovering alcoholic to help him organize a one-night-a-week outpatient clinic, which lasted for three-and-a-half years. But if a patient was going through withdrawal symptoms, he or she could not be admitted easily.

“They had to have a seizure to get admitted. That’s how crazy it was for a while,” he remembered. “Once in a while I would sneak somebody in, and I would take all kinds of heat from the Health Plan because they would tell me it wasn’t a covered benefit.”

But industry and the government were determined to extend addiction treatment to as many American workers and their families as possible. Recognizing the need, KP regions began instituting coverage in the late 1970s, usually offering outpatient treatment services through the psychiatry department with a copayment and yearly cap on the number of counseling appointments or group meetings a member could use.

By the early 1980s, alcoholics were no longer falling “through the cracks at Kaiser (Permanente),” according to Andrus Skuja, MD, then chief of the alcohol and drug abuse program in South San Francisco. His comments in an interview in the KP Reporter employee newsletter in December 1982 reflected Merrick’s early experience in Southern California:

The U.S. Post Office issued this commemorative stamp in 1981. Illustration: Catwalk/Shutterstock.

During the 1980s as the nation recognized cocaine as a new addiction problem, KP saw the need to treat many other drug addictions. It was a little tough at first. Many alcohol counselors were not comfortable with “heroin addicts or pill users, and they didn’t seem to realize that the dynamics were all the same. Addiction is addiction,” Merrick recalled. “In the San Fernando Valley, one clinic treated alcoholics and another treated addicts other than alcoholics . . . that lasted for a while.”

Kaiser Permanente resisted the initial trend of sending people to 30-day inpatient treatment programs even though many large employers and well-off unions, such as the longshoremen, were pushing it.  KP established inpatient detoxification programs at KP Fontana for Kaiser Steel Mill employees in 1978 and in Carson just south of Los Angeles in 1988.

Thirty days was the gold standard based on the Minnesota model of alcoholism treatment that health insurers recognized and were willing to pay for. It got a large push when Betty Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, spoke of her alcoholism in 1978 and later lent her name to the Betty Ford Center for alcoholics and drug addicts.1

Merrick, who was never convinced of the need for the month-long inpatient stay, noted: “We never kept them in for 30 days . . . As it has shaken out, I was right.

“It was just common sense. If you are a functioning alcoholic and not going through detox, why on earth do you need to be in for 30 days when you can do equivalent work on an outpatient basis over a longer period of time, because treatment for alcoholism or any drug is a lifelong thing . . . There is nothing magical about the 30 days.”

This inpatient treatment model died off everywhere in the early 1990s and was replaced by less expensive residential treatment as an alternative for patients with special needs.

Next time: 1990s spawn research and refinement of addiction care

1 Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, William L. White, Chestnut Health Systems/Lighthouse Institute, 1998

2 Historical Review of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Raymond M. Kay, MD, 1978, publisher: the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

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Millie Cutting: physician’s wife makes her own mark

posted on July 27, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Millie Cutting in the early years of Permanente Medicine. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archives photo

Millie Cutting was the wife of Kaiser Permanente’s pioneering chief surgeon Cecil Cutting, but her influence on the fledgling medical program during World War II contradicts any cliché prescribing the role of a doctor’s spouse. She was a vibrant, energetic force in her own right, a good woman behind a good man, but much, much more.

The Cuttings met in Northern California at Stanford University in the early 1930s. He was training to become a physician; she was a registered nurse with a degree from Stanford. They met on the tennis courts and married in 1935.

During her husband’s nonpaid internship, Millie Cutting worked two jobs – for a pediatrician during the day and an ophthalmologist in the evenings – to pay the bills. He was making $300 a month as a resident when Sidney Garfield, MD, contacted him about joining the medical care program for Henry Kaiser’s workers on the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.

Millie was at first reluctant to leave San Francisco to relocate in the desert. But when Cecil convinced her that he would have more opportunity as a surgeon with Garfield than in San Francisco, she was game.  “Oh, she was willing to go along; she had a lot of spirit and enthusiasm,” Cecil Cutting said in his oral history.

“I think with a little reluctance, perhaps of the unknown,” he told interviewer Malca Chall of UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office in 1985. “We didn’t have any money. She had worked during my residency as a nurse, to keep us in food.”  Sidney Garfield was able to match the $300 Cutting was earning at Stanford to get him to Coulee.

A rough start at Grand Coulee

Unfortunately for Millie, things at Coulee didn’t start out too well. John Smillie, MD, writes: “Cecil and Millie Cutting resided in the company hotel. They were flat broke. The young couple had exhausted their resources getting to Washington. Neither of them thought of asking for an advance.”1

“My wife couldn’t take the heat very well,” Cutting told Smillie. “She would lay on the bed with a wet sheet over her; and we didn’t have enough money to eat, really. She would go to the cafeteria and see how far she could stretch a few pennies to eat. Of course, I ate well at the hospital and had air conditioning and everything.

Cecil Cutting, a surgeon, and Millie Cutting, a registered nurse, both graduates of Stanford University, married in 1935. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo

“She finally learned to come over and sit in the waiting room on the very hottest days. Since then, Dr. Garfield laughed at us and said, ‘Why didn’t you ask me for money?’ We didn’t know enough to do that!”

“At the end of the first discomforting month, Cutting received his first paycheck for $350,” Smillie writes. “He and Millie moved into a remodeled schoolhouse, the largest home in the community, and it soon became the social center for the physicians and the Kaiser executives.”

Millie gets her groove back

During the rest of their time at Coulee, Millie not only got her energy back but she exhibited her strength as a staff nurse and as a community volunteer. Probably her most significant contribution was the development of a well-baby clinic in a community church. As a volunteer, she organized the clinic and went door to door soliciting funds for its operation. She had no qualms about knocking on the portals of the town’s brothels.

“The madams were very friendly,” Cecil Cutting told Smillie. “The community church provided the space, and the houses of ill repute the money – a very compatible community.”

Garfield’s right hand ‘man’ at wartime shipyards

Millie and Cecil Cutting with Kaiser Permanente physician co-founder Sidney Garfield (right) at Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital, 1943. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo

The Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1940, and the medical staff and their families scattered. The Cuttings settled briefly in Seattle where Dr. Cutting set up a surgery practice. But it wasn’t very long before World War II broke out and Dr. Garfield was called upon again to assembe the medical troops.

Cecil Cutting was the first physician to arrive in Richmond, California, where Henry Kaiser set up four wartime shipyards. Millie Cutting volunteered to work side by side with Sidney Garfield to get the medical care program up and running and to take charge of any job that needed to be done.

She recruited, interviewed and hired nurses, receptionists, clerks, and even an occasional doctor, to staff the health care program that was set up in a hurry in 1942. She smoothed the way for newcomers and helped them find homes in the impossible wartime housing market.

Thoroughly adaptable Millie drove a supply truck between the Oakland and Richmond hospitals and the first aid stations and served as the purchasing agent for a time. As she had done at Grand Coulee, Millie set up a well-baby clinic for shipyard workers’ families, and she opened her home in Oakland as a social center for the medical care staff.

Perturbing postwar perceptions

After the war, Millie and Bobbie Collen, wife of Morris Collen, MD, started a Permanente wives group in 1949. The association created a support system against an often hostile medical establishment that shunned prepaid group practice of medicine as “socialist.” The physicians were not allowed in the local medical society, and the women felt socially ostracized.

“They organized themselves as the Permanente Wives Association, which had a nickname, ‘Garfield’s Girls,’ ” Smillie wrote. “They had dances, parties, picnics and social outings several times a year that were really a lot of fun. The auxiliary. . .became famous for its rummage sales.”

Millie and Cecil Cutting with daughter Sydney and son Christopher, circa 1948 in Orinda, California. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo.

The Cuttings became good friends with Sidney Garfield, and in fact, he spent periods of time living with them in their Orinda home in the 1940s and 1950s. Cecil Cutting credits Garfield with the couple’s decision in 1948 to adopt their two children, Sydney and Christopher. “He talked us into it,” Cutting said.

Garfield often went to them for advice about business matters, as well. “I think he talked over a lot of things with Dr. Cutting and Millie,” said Smillie in his oral history. “He had a great deal of confidence in their judgment. If they told him he was wrong, he was able to accept it.”

The Cuttings were the friends Garfield chose to share the happy moment of burning the mortgage papers once the renovated Fabiola Hospital (the first Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland) note was paid off.  The private celebration took place in the Cuttings’ home with just Garfield and Millie and Cecil present.

Dr. Cutting worked his way up to become the executive director of The Permanente Medical Group in 1957 and retired in 1976 after 35 years as a major figure in the organization. Millie Cutting continued to volunteer at the Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital all of her life. She had to quit in 1985 when she became too ill to leave her house. She died that year at the age of 73. Cecil Cutting received a flood of condolence notes from all the people whose lives Millie had touched.

One woman wrote: “When life seemed just too much, Millie’s unforgettable laughter would ring in my mind’s ear, and the will to tackle life again would be there like a gift from her. She didn’t just give. She was a gift.”

1 John Smillie, MD, Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care? The Story of The Permanente Medical Group, McGraw-Hill Companies, New York, 1991

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Quality of care: Always foremost in minds of Kaiser Permanente leaders

posted on February 29, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

First in a series
In the beginning of the modern era of medicine there were doctors and patients.  To judge the quality of care was to ask: Did the patient live? Is the patient thriving? Doctors had little science to back up their methods. They followed conventions and did what they thought was best for the patient. If a doctor went wrong, no formal mechanism existed to correct his (or her) ways.

Hard to imagine how we got from such early simplicity to today’s complicated state of quality affairs. Our 2012 definition of quality encompasses a myriad of considerations:  timely access to care, science-based treatment, adherence to well-defined practice protocols, and appropriate use of technology. Preventive care screenings, such as mammograms and colon studies to catch cancer early, and access to health education so patients can learn to avoid disease are key factors in assessing the quality of care of a provider organization.

Figuring out the best way to judge quality of care has been a monumental quest pursued by health care providers and consumers alike since the early 1950s. This pursuit has been embraced by numerous medical, government and consumer agencies in the past 50-plus years, creating a veritable alphabet soup of regulatory and review/rating organizations with varying degrees of effectiveness and longevity.

Hannah Peters, MD, a women’s physician in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards, studied the female workers’ adaptation to heavy labor.

Further complicating the issue of quality is the fact that everything doctors, hospitals and health plans undertake – staff recruitment and education, research, and technology upgrades – affects quality. So it’s difficult, if not impossible, to talk about quality without looking at these topics as well. So the subject of quality is all-encompassing and, at times, overwhelming.

A case study of Kaiser Permanente’s initiatives over the decades to assess and improve quality of care reveals many different approaches and different boards and committees formed to respond to industry trends and to ultimately crack the quality nut.

In many instances, Kaiser Permanente was in the forefront of the various quality movements, often with the intention of proving its own worth to a skeptical world of traditionalists who didn’t like prepaid group practice. At other times, Permanente was pioneering new methods of care delivery and conducting crucial quality research that would lead the way for what came to be called quality assurance, initially for health maintenance organizations (HMO) and later for all forms of managed care.

Permanente physicians came from academic tradition

Starting out in the World War II West Coast shipyards, Sidney Garfield and Henry Kaiser knew the quality of care had to be the best possible to make sure the often sickly workers would be fit for dirty, hard and stressful work. So they used the latest methods they knew – and could learn about through research – to be on top of their medical game. Coming from an academic medical center at Los Angeles County General Hospital, Garfield understood the benefits of research, collaboration and continuous quality improvement, a term unheard of at the time.

Garfield hired like-minded contemporaries, such as surgeon Cecil Cutting, internist Morris Collen, and gynecologist Hannah Peters, all socially conscious and oriented toward innovation, to carry out the wartime program. Learning all the time, these physicians developed new treatments and published their results during and after the war.

Inundated with pneumonia patients, Collen uncovered new ways to treat the often deadly condition. Treating pneumonia patients with horse serum and sulfa drugs, Collen was able to save many lives, even before the “wonder drug” penicillin became available to treat civilians at war’s end.

Hannah Peters, a German native who migrated to New York in 1934, studied women shipyard workers’ ability to adapt to heavy, industrial work. She noted how a woman’s menstrual cycle was affected by the carbohydrate-rich diet necessitated by the physical demands of welding and other shipyard jobs.

She and her colleague gynecologist Duncan Footer published their results in a 1946 issue of the Kaiser Foundation Bulletin, as well as in national medical journals. Peters went on to become the leader of the Laboratory for Reproductive Biology in Copenhagen and published many articles on women’s health.

Postwar health plan set aside funds for research and education

San Francisco pediatrician John Smillie checks the health of two young sisters and their doll, circa 1960.

After the war when the Permanente health plan was opened to the public, quality of care continued to be a top priority. With 5% of Kaiser Foundation revenues guaranteed by its charter for education, research and community benefit, the Permanente physicians continued to form bonds with academic institutions to learn, teach and conduct research.

Sidney Garfield always put an emphasis on research and continuing education. Dr. Collen recalls: “When he (Garfield) set up the Department of Medical Methods Research (1961 in Northern California), he always maintained a close association with it. He always had important projects that he wanted our department to carry out because he was very self-critical of our organization. Although he was of course very proud of what he had conceived and accomplished, he always felt we should try to do better.”

Collen adds that having a robust research program helps attract good physicians to KP. “The best quality of care involves a simultaneous interest in teaching and in research, in addition to patient care.”

Southern California pioneers had eye on the quality ball

In Southern California, the physician group was also diligent in the selection of physicians from its beginnings in the early 1950s. Sam Sapin, quality pioneer, explains: “The SCPMG (Southern California Permanente Medical Group) had many intrinsic or built-in quality assurance mechanisms.”

A maternity nurse tends to newborns at a KP hospital, circa 1965.

These included: careful selection of physicians and imposing a probationary period of two to three years before election to partnership; and an informal but very effective form of physician peer review because of KP’s group practice model. Group practice also provided the opportunity for collaboration with colleagues and specialists to avoid inappropriate care and mistakes.

Sapin says other quality ensuring factors included mandatory physician continuing education, ongoing sharing of inpatients and outpatients and their medical records as well as the accountability for quality of care vested in chiefs of service and medical directors who could withhold merit and longevity salary increases. Another key factor:  there was no incentive for overutilization or performance of unnecessary procedures and no incentive to withhold appropriate care.

Henry Kaiser triggers review of KP hospitals in 1959

Aside from the original and sincere intent to be the best in care, the Permanente physicians’ first stab at quality assurance came in 1959 when Henry Kaiser asked the question of Permanente health plan executive Clifford Keene, MD: “Do our hospitals provide quality of care? John Smillie, MD, an early KP San Francisco physician, recounts in his oral history: “Dr. Keene thought for a moment and he said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know how we can judge how good the care is in our hospitals, but I’ll find out for you.’

Emmett Lowrey, MD, leads a discussion among early Permanente physicians about the results of an X-ray examination.

“So Dr. Keene then commissioned Dorothea Daniels (KP’s first female hospital administrator) to do a study of hospital quality of care in all Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, not just Northern California, but in Southern California, and Oregon and Hawaii. She came back, I think in a year, with a very thorough report, which showed that in some hospitals the quality of care could be improved, and in other hospitals it was excellent. But it was a very honest and straightforward report,” Smillie said.

At that time, formal external quality assessment and documentation did not yet exist. The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals had formed in 1952 and begun a voluntary accreditation program, but before the advent of Medicare in 1965 no government, employer or consumer influence had made itself felt in the regulation of medical care. That situation would soon change and the age of innocence for physician and hospital quality review was giving way to a much more complicated and anxious time.

Next time: The late 1960s and 1970s bring much conversation, soul-searching and anxiety about quality of care.

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