Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Permanente Health Plan’

Building history like building ships

posted on August 22, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Fore 'n' Aft, 1943-05-21, RMH

Fore ‘n’ Aft, May 21, 1943; click on image to see full issue PDF

During World War II, Henry J. Kaiser brought efficiencies to the shipbuilding industry such as prefabrication, vendor collaboration, and just-in-time inventory control. Fast forward to the present era where Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources began digitizing the weekly Richmond shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft.

Many of the articles in this blog draw deeply from that well. At the peak of shipyard employment in 1944 some 80,000 copies of the free newsletter were distributed, reaching 90 percent of the workforce. It was a key part of the shipyard community, and the wide range of content included welding suggestions, news of launchings, cartoons, shopping and cooking tips, labor news, classified ads, and a complaint column.

The problem was that our archive only held some of those published, limiting our ability to thoroughly research that vital period. We had 78 issues, and at least 170 more had been produced.

Our solution? Collaboration with community partners and judicious use of specialized vendors.

Fore 'n' Aft, 1945-03-30, RMH

Fore ‘n’ Aft, March 30, 1945, with article “Family Health Plan Opened Wide”; click on image to see full issue PDF

We knew that the Richmond Museum of History held the most complete set of Fore ‘n’ Afts around, but initial inquiries stumbled over cost and access. However, subsequent negotiations with the RMH yielded a true win-win situation. They would provide us the issues we were missing at no cost, and we’d pay to digitize them. The resultant set of all files would be shared by both. In addition, we agreed to share a research set with a mutual partner, the National Park Service’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront Memorial Park visitor center. Among other gems, the RMH is steward of the S.S. Red Oak Victory, launched on November 9, 1944 and the only remaining Kaiser Richmond shipyard vessel that is being restored.

Fore ‘n’ Aft was printed in two formats between 1941 and 1946; some were saddle stitched magazines and some were larger (and cheaper) tabloid newspapers. The smaller format was sent to a local vendor, and the tabloid issues were digitized at the author’s studio (four years ago I shot 24,000 posters for the Oakland Museum of California). The resulting PDFs were processed for optical character recognition to allow full-text searching.

The resulting digital collection contains almost all of the published issues, and for the first time these materials can be accessed through comprehensive text searching.

Partnership + collaboration = community benefit.

 

Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/1BKVto1 

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Latest Kaiser Permanente signature hoisted to the heights

posted on February 7, 2012

By Lincoln Cushing

Heritage writer

New Kaiser Permanente signage on The Ordway building, 12/20/2011; photo by Lincoln Cushing

On January 18 of this year, executives and contractors gathered in a top floor conference room a block away from The Ordway building in downtown Oakland, California. As darkness settled, brief speeches were made, a ceremonial switch was flipped, and huge Kaiser Permanente signs on both sides of the structure’s summit lit up with the energy-efficient brilliance of thousands of light emitting diodes.1

This was the first signage ever mounted on The Ordway, and it represents the most current appearance of the Kaiser Permanente logo, a copyrighted symbol that brands everything from pill bottles to skyscrapers. The new signs can be seen from across the city at night, and with the 1950 Franklin building, present two pairs of KP illuminated signatures on the Oakland cityscape.

“Family of four” logo, 1972

The Ordway, constructed in 1970, was named after Henry J. Kaiser’s first employee and long-time and trusted operations manager A.B. (Alonzo Benton) Ordway. “Ord,” as Kaiser called him, was hired in 1912 –100 years ago – when Kaiser was with the Canadian Mineral Rubber Company.

The Ordway is adjacent to the Kaiser Center at 300 Lakeside, Henry Kaiser’s pride and joy in 1960, which at 28 stories was the tallest building in the East Bay at the time it opened. Formerly the Kaiser Industries headquarters, the center still carries a sign that simply says “Kaiser.” The Ordway, Kaiser Center and the nearby 1950 Franklin St. building accommodate many of KP’s administrative offices.

KP brand identity evolved over decades

Sporting a consistent and polished brand signature is relatively new in Kaiser Permanente’s 67-year existence.  During World War II, Permanente Metals, which operated a medical care program for its wartime workers, did not develop a separate logo for the health plan. Rather, the Permanente Metals logo of three ship hulls inside a compass rosette appeared on the health plan brochure. The trio of ships likely represented the three West Coast wartime shipyards where Henry Kaiser built warships.

Although the health plan evolved on its own after the war, there is no evidence leaders sought any brand identity other than adopting for Kaiser Permanente’s signage the same typeface and style used to identify each of the Kaiser Industries companies.

‘Family of four’ mark emerges in 1970s

In the early 1970s, a silhouette nuclear “family of four” mark began to appear in publications and signage for the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program. In 1982 the Southern California Region hired Boyd Communications of Los Angeles to produce its own regional logo. Douglas Boyd designed a mark that featured one of the human figures but also integrated a stylized “K” for Kaiser Permanente.

Pre-1984 logo

The idea of a unified graphic representing all Kaiser Permanente’s regional health plans did not emerge until 1984, when a corporate identity committee was formed. The committee included Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Chairman and President James A. Vohs, Don Duffy, head of Corporate Communications, corporate identity experts, KP regional managers, and medical directors.

Logo design sparks debate in the 1980s

Southern California leaders had this logo created in early 1980s.

Kaiser Permanente was growing, and the “family of four” graphic that had been used by several – but not all – KP regional health plans was not only amateurish and antiquated, it had been imitated by competitor health care organizations because it was not protected by copyright. Vohs reflects on some of the challenges involved:

“As with almost any issue in Kaiser Permanente, there was a range of opinions about a new logo.  Quite often the leaders of the medical groups had different views from the leaders of health plan.  Also, the Southern California Region felt that the organization should adopt the logo they were using.

In addition, consultants from a previous design firm felt that we should change the name of the organization.  They thought strongly that ‘Kaiser Permanente’ as a title for a health care organization was a negative, and urged us to abandon it. (They were concerned that the name “Kaiser” was too closely identified with Henry J. Kaiser’s steel and aluminum industry, not with patient care and wellness).”

Vohs continues: “But from my point of view there were really just two concepts that needed to be reflected in any logo: that the arrangement between the ‘partners’ in the enterprise, the health plan and the Permanente Medical Groups, be recognized; and that there be just one style of logo used consistently throughout the organization to reinforce that Kaiser Permanente is one single multiregional and national enterprise.”2

1984 version logo

The resulting logo, created by Boyd Communications, was a distillation of concepts that reflected KP’s mission.  When the new graphic identity was released in 1985, a brochure was distributed explaining some of the design parameters and solutions:

“It had to convey: a feeling of warmth and caring; a sense of quality and professionalism; concern and commitment to one another; the partnership we share in providing health care to the community; and a progressive feeling.

“. . . The sense of community is there in the three figures. They can represent the three entities which make up our program (the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, and the Permanente Medical Groups), the families we serve, and the communities we’re located in. The radiating light transmits a sense of health and healing. The sunburst also reminds us of our roots in the desert, where (KP founding physician) Sidney Garfield started providing prepaid medical care more than 50 years ago (1933).”

Signature suits company’s mission

Current Kaiser Permanente logo

Boyd, who has created logos for many international businesses such as Apple, Hilton and Toyota, is humble when describing his team’s part in designing the KP logo. He likens his role to a “tailor” who simply put a nice “suit” on Kaiser Permanente.

“To be somewhat objective, it’s what the organization has done that makes the logo,” Boyd said. “A logo can’t make a company. And Kaiser (Permanente) has done an extraordinary job at becoming the best in the country at providing health care.”3

In 1999 the “family” symbol was slightly revised, this time under the direction of Landor Associates, another world-class strategic brand consulting and design firm, as part of the most comprehensive identity system KP had ever rolled out. This included a revised logo called the “signature”.

The 17 rays of light in the image were reduced to 14 and the typeface of the words “Kaiser Permanente” was changed. KP also standardized the horizontal configuration of the logo and type. Subsequent additional tweaking by the design firm of Kate Keating and Associates used even fewer rays in the “people” for enhanced legibility in specialized applications such as embroidery, pharmacy labels, and large signage.

Fittingly, during the centennial of A. B. Ordway’s hire, the towering edifice named after him glows with the most modern Kaiser Permanente symbology.

 

1 The energy-efficient sign is specially designed to illuminate white through the blue lettering for enhanced visibility at night.

2 Email correspondence with author 1/30/2012

3 Interview 12/2011 with Boyd by KP communications associate Kathleen Haley

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Permanente embraces its partnership with labor

posted on December 31, 2010

By Laura Thomas

Henry J. Kaiser and Sidney R. Garfield, MD, survey the site for the Walnut Creek Medical Center, completed in 1953

Throughout its history, Kaiser Permanente has relied on the “can-do spirit” of its dedicated workers and on the support of organized labor to keep the prepaid health plan strong.

Coming out of World War II, the medical plan had proven its viability in caring for a large shipyard workforce, but with the end of shipbuilding contracts, Henry Kaiser and Permanente founder and medical director Dr. Sidney Garfield had a big problem. Where were the large numbers of new members going to come from?

Kaiser, a friend of labor, attracted workers’ unions whose leaders understood the power of prepaid health care and wanted it for the welfare of their workers. Bay Area workers – from Oakland city employees, who were the first to sign up, to union typographers, street car drivers and carpenters – embraced the Permanente Health Plan with its emphasis on preventive medicine.

In 1950, Harry Bridges brought the 6,000-member International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union (ILWU) into Kaiser Permanente, bringing the total West Coast membership, including Los Angeles, to almost 160,000.  In 1951, the Retail Clerks union added 30,000 to the membership rolls in Los Angeles.

Opposition tries to squelch KP

Despite this success, Kaiser and Garfield often faced rear guard actions from private practice doctors who felt threatened by group practice medicine. In 1953 when KP opened a new hospital in Walnut Creek and sought the health plan contract with workers in the U.S. Steel plant in Pittsburg, California, all hell broke loose in that small town along the Carquinez Strait.

A family visits the new KP Walnut Creek facility completed in 1953

Before Kaiser Permanente came along, the steelworkers union had both a national hospitalization plan and a local supplementary health plan with local private practice doctors. The workers were not satisfied with the current health plan and were complaining that providers charged too much and were lackadaisical about responding to emergencies and requests for house calls.

For their part, the Pittsburg area doctors argued that inflation required rates to rise and disputed the idea that service to members was lax.

Kaiser Permanente already provided care to steelworkers at the South San Francisco Bethlehem Steel plant and was prepared to expand services to the Pittsburg area. The beginning of KP’s negotiations with the Steelworkers Local 1440 in Pittsburg raised the hackles of the 41 private practice doctors already established in the area.

These doctors, all members of the East Contra Costa branch of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, quickly devised a new and better plan to offer the union, including 24-hour emergency service and a cap on fees.

Offer steelworkers couldn’t refuse

Joseph Garbarino, in his 1960 study of the Pittsburg conflict for the University of California, reported that the union bargainers welcomed Kaiser Permanente because of its offer to provide comprehensive care for a specific price for a specified period of time. This arrangement was attractive to the local union whose leadership had never before been able to negotiate such a favorable deal with their private practice providers.

The first Pittsburg clinic was in an old motel

The Pittsburg area doctors were furious and immediately mounted a campaign to discredit the Kaiser Permanente agreement.  The doctors appealed to the steelworkers to reject the decision of their insurance committee and place the KP plan and the private doctors’ revised offer side by side for a vote of the full membership.

Fred Pellegrin, a Kaiser Permanente physician in the new Walnut Creek facility, remembers a rally where the local doctors “begged us not to go to Pittsburg … People stood up, yelling at us, called us Communists. It was a real shouting match.”

Using full-page newspaper ads, handbills and direct mail, the fee-for-service doctors bombarded the community with arguments supporting their plan and implied that the national Steelworker union officials were investigating the local’s decision.

The union answered the doctors’ charges in its newsletter and then agreed to a Sept. 3 (1953) election. Both sides agreed to a break in hostilities for the month of August. The agreement called for the doctors to stop their campaign and for the union leaders to remain neutral on the election.

The truce ended just days before the election when the union distributed voting packets with both health plan proposals, and included a leaflet encouraging members to favor the Kaiser Permanente plan. Enraged private practice doctors took to the battlements again, issuing a more detailed plan explanation and blasting the union in a full-page newspaper ad.

The doctors hired a truck with a loud speaker that cruised through workers’ neighborhoods broadcasting their opposition to Kaiser Permanente. They enlisted supporters, including Pittsburg doctors’ wives, to distribute literature in the steel company parking lot. Plan B was to drop leaflets from the air if solicitors were barred from the plant. According to news reports, tensions rose and the sheriff’s department was called, but no clashes occurred.

Victory of KP health plan

The Pittsburg medical establishment’s effort failed as steelworkers voted 2,182 to 440 to retain the Kaiser Permanente plan. For KP, this was a victory, but more struggles related to organized labor were yet to come.

Financial troubles in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in labor issues that threatened to stunt the health plan’s progress. Happily, those years of turmoil spawned Kaiser Permanente’s landmark Labor Management Partnership (LMP), which forged a cooperative relationship between KP’s 26 unions and the health plan leadership. The partnership fosters a respectful collaboration to improve health care for members and to create a positive work environment.

Kaiser Permanente unions had a big role in bringing about that partnership. In the midst of hostile bargaining in 1995, union leaders realized the labor disputes could damage the future of the health plan. Kathy Schmidt, a member of the bargaining team from Oregon, recalled, “We realized: here is the most unionized system in the country. Why don’t we try to help them? We learned more about trying to have a Partnership.”

Then-Kaiser Permanente CEO David Lawrence reached back across the abyss and agreed. “What I remember thinking about at that meeting was: We’ve got nothing to lose by being forthcoming about what I believed needed to happen …about the kind of collaboration that I think is required to deliver modern medical care in all of its complexity,” he told Harvard University researchers in 2002.

Today, scholars at both Harvard’s School of Government and Stanford University’s School of Business are following the progress of the LMP and consider it a prime example of labor and management cooperation. Its continued success will contribute to the realization of KP’s goal of being the model for health care delivery in the United States.

Read more about the Labor Management Partnership.

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