Posts Tagged ‘Kabat-Kaiser Institute’

Disabled KP financial analyst changed course of public transportation

posted on October 24, 2012

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Harold Willson, KP employee from 1957 to 1977, getting off a wheelchair-accessible BART train. Willson convinced officials to alter the system design to accommodate disabled passengers. Photo from Accent on Living magazine.

Next month, Kaiser Permanente leaders and staff will gather for the 35th year to celebrate the diversity of its work force, its selected vendors and its membership. “Diversity Excellence: A 21st Century Game Changer” will be in Long Beach on November 1 and 2.

KP’s embracing of diversity goes back to its beginnings in the World War II shipyards, and its ranks have included many disabled individuals who made significant contributions despite their handicaps. Harold T. Willson, a wheelchair-bound KP financial analyst, was one such person.

Willson, disabled in a 1948 mining accident, successfully lobbied leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to make the high-speed train system accessible to the disabled.

BART, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, was under construction in the early 1960s when Willson learned that the plans did not call for disabled access. He raised his objections and insisted on alterations.

Willson’s quiet persistence made BART leaders stop and listen. This relentlessness was characteristic of Willson’s approach to life. His story is one of triumph over tragedy.

Slate slide crushed young miner

Willson was 21 years old when his entire life changed. The son of a mining engineer, he turned to mine work for income, as many young men do in West Virginia. His father had died two years earlier, and he was supporting the family and saving for college.

BART public phones were mounted lower to be convenient for passengers in wheelchairs. Photo from Accent on Living magazine.

He describes his last day of going down 500 feet to work at the mine owned by the New River Coal Company in Summerlee:

“On Friday, the 13th day of February, 1948, I went to work the ‘hoot owl’ shift, and early the next morning just after my lunchtime, at 3:30 a.m., I was caught in a slate fall. I was badly crushed, ribs and back were broken with severe spinal damage.”

Willson was fortunate to be a member of Local 6048 of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Soon after his accident he was sent to the Kabat-Kaiser Institute in Oakland, California, for rehabilitation (the facility was later located in Vallejo).

Kaiser rehabilitation center opened to miners

Just a few months earlier, legendary UMWA leader John L. Lewis and the UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund had partnered with Henry J. Kaiser and the Kabat-Kaiser Institute to provide top-quality medical care and rehabilitation for injured miners.

United Mine Workers of America patients arriving by Pullman train for Kaiser physical therapy, 1948. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archives photo

Vocational institutions in the rural mining communities in the East were badly underfunded, and the California facilities offered a perfect venue for the union’s commitment to social welfare.

Willson was among the first group of miners to take the long trip west in three railroad cars, eventually followed by hundreds more. In an early instance of KP’s community benefit practices, the Permanente Health Plan continued to provide care even when the miners’ fund ran out of money.i

At Kabat-Kaiser Willson participated in physical therapy, played wheelchair basketball, and fell in love with his nurse and future wife. He got a job at the Bank of America, earned a bachelor of science in business administration, and then took a position as a senior financial analyst with the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, retiring in 1977.

Willson put his persuasive powers to work

While employed by KP, Willson was a powerful advocate for urban design and construction that would accommodate disabled people. As volunteer consultant to BART, he put in long hours over a 10-year period to ensure its accessibility for the disabled and elderly. He insisted that adequate transportation was often the deciding factor for disabled independence.

Special ticket gates were designed to allow wheelchairs to pass through. Photo from Accent on Living magazine.

A feature article on his work in the 1973 issue of Accent on Living described it this way: “The original concept [of BART] in 1962 did not include the provisions for people with severely restricted mobility.

“At that time, Willson initiated a campaign to secure the present facilities, starting with endorsements from the elderly, the handicapped and the general public. The project was not “sold” with fanfare and publicity but by person- to-person contact.”

A.E. Wolf, General Superintendent of Transportation for BART, was won over by Willson’s approach. He noted: “His suggestion was novel for rapid transit, no one had tried it; it posed all kinds of problems; cost was significant. Our staff, including myself, was hardly enthusiastic.

“But, he did not threaten, nor picket, nor sulk, nor lose patience. Instead he was professional, pleasant, firm and persistent. As a result, he won support of each of our board members while maintaining a friendly relationship with our staff. This helped his cause immensely.”

KP backed Willson’s advocacy

In keeping with its policy to support efforts to improve opportunities for the disabled, as well as other minority groups, Kaiser Permanente gave Willson the freedom to pursue his accessibility campaign.

“It is appropriate here to commend Kaiser [Permanente leaders] . . . because of their interest, encouragement and public service philosophy,” Wolf also noted. “The willingness to arrange time for an employee to participate in this community project was necessary for its success.” ii

Willson agreed: “. . . Since our Medical Care Program is one of the largest providers of health services . . . we should assume the leadership role in promoting and participating in activities and programs that will create a barrier-free environment for the handicapped and elderly.”

Willson’s specific recommendations included large elevators at every stop, accessible restrooms, wide parking spaces, narrow gaps between trains and platforms, and loudspeaker announcements.

His broader vision was perhaps best articulated in a statement he made before the American Public Transportation Association in 1976: “We must exert every effort to . . . create a barrier-free transportation environment for those that are handicapped and for the non-handicapped destined to become disabled such as yourselves.”

 

i The charitable nature of this relationship is described in A Model for National Health Care by Rickey Hendricks: “When the union fund suffered a financial setback in late 1949, the Permanente Hospital Foundation continued to transport and care for miners at Permanente expense. Kabat-Kaiser continued through 1952 to run on a deficit of almost $100,000.”

ii Comments by A.E.Wolf, General Superintendent of Transportation, Bay Area Rapid Transit District, to Workshop number 3, Transportation Environment, 1972 National Easter Seal Convention, Chicago, Illinois, November 9, 1972.

http://bit.ly/Rjjwm9

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

Kaiser Permanente’s Historical Role in Rehabilitation Medicine

posted on January 23, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director, Heritage Resources, Kaiser Permanente

Since the late 1940s, the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center (KFRC) in Vallejo, California has treated thousands of patients with acquired neurological disorders, trauma, and neuromuscular and orthopedic conditions. This inpatient rehabilitation hospital and outpatient center also is Kaiser Permanente’s Center of Excellence for people with disabilities.

Less known is the role industrialist Henry J. Kaiser played in its inception, thereby establishing himself as a national philanthropic leader in helping establish the field of rehabilitation medicine.  Recognition for that historic accomplishment is remedied in a new book by Richard Verville titled “War, Politics, and Philanthropy: The History of Rehabilitation Medicine” (University Press of America, 2009).

Verville describes the birth of this field in part out of the need to treat soldiers who suffered combat injuries in World Wars I and II.  He traces its evolution to the present.  In his chapter “The Immediate Postwar Years,” he covers Henry Kaiser, Dr. Sidney R. Garfield and Dr. Herman Kabat in the formation of the Kabat-Kaiser Institute in 1946 – today’s KFRC.   Anyone interested can view our 11-minute video  The Power of Science and the Human Spirit  about the history of KFRC and get the full story in the context of American medical history in Verville’s book.

To sum up the historic role of Henry J. Kaiser, Verville places him in a pantheon of important leaders that includes President Franklin D. Roosevelt in setting the stage for the growth of rehabilitation medicine after World War II:  “Kaiser thus took his place along with Bernard Baruch, Jeremiah and Samuel Milbank, and FDR as philanthropists who assisted in the early development of the medical rehabilitation facility movement in the private sector. Without their initiative and willingness to back new methods in health care, the eventual growth of rehabilitation medicine might never have occurred.” (Emphasis added.)
 
To be sure, as Verville points out, the trigger for Henry Kaiser’s actions was news in 1945 that his son, Henry J. Kaiser Jr., had multiple sclerosis. When the elder Kaiser learned that Kabat, a neurophysiologist and clinical neurologist, was achieving success in treating multiple sclerosis and paralytic poliomyelitis, he asked Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney R. Garfield to meet with Dr. Kabat.  “He had people walking who hadn’t walked for years,” Garfield recalled.  The Kabat-Kaiser Institute was born.

Not covered in this book is the fact that Kaiser already had experience with addressing the needs of people with disabilities on the Home Front of World War II.

An early Permanente physician, Clifford Kuh, a specialist in industrial medicine, did research in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif., looking at workers for their capabilities despite their physical disabilities rather than viewing them as “handicapped” and incapable. It was a visionary’s viewpoint that did not become prevalent for another 30 years with the rise of the Disability Rights Movement of the 1970s and subsequent Independent Living Movement.

The importance of Dr. Kuh’s work was recognized immediately, however.  In reporting on it, the New York Times (May 21, 1944) quoted William K. Hopkins, regional director the War Manpower Commission, which collaborated on the study.  Hopkins called it “pioneering” work that would prove “invaluable in the post-war period” with service men and women who would return to the civilian workforce with disabling injuries.

As a charitable trust, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan (then “Permanente Foundation”) provided funds in 1944 to distribute the research results nationwide as a public service so that communities across the country could use it help assimilate disabled veterans into the postwar workforce.

(The Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources program offers special thanks to its history colleague Dr. Elizabeth Sandel, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at KFRC today who Verville notes reviewed an early draft of his book and provided him with historical material on the history of The Permanente Medical Group and Henry J. Kaiser.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,