By Ginny McPartland
The year 1962 is as good a time as any to begin a year-end reflection on Kaiser Permanente’s past. The 1950s and early 1960s were the days when the Health Plan was still getting established, and its pioneers were counting the blessings that kept their enterprise going.
KP Heritage Resources’ expansive archive of newsletters and magazines from previous decades provide the fodder for a historical review. We can trace the concerns and triumphs of each era from the words and pictures that appear on the pages of the December editions. Some issues are remarkably like the ones we face today; others are no longer worries.
In the December 1962 issue of the KP Reporter, you can find a photo of the white-uniformed and cap-clad student nurses’ choir that strolled through the corridors of the Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital singing carols during the holiday season. The Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing choir also entertained at San Francisco and Vallejo hospitals, area nursing homes and the Business and Professional Women’s Club holiday party.
In the same issue, a visiting lecturer talked about the dangers of radiation exposure: “There is evidence that radiation causes something akin to aging, a shortening of the life span due to the loss of hereditary material, and damage to chromosome and malfunctioning of cells. This brings on death,” said Irwin Oster, PhD, of the Institute of Cancer Research in Philadelphia.
Medicare emerges onto the scene
Skip ahead to 1965 and you can read about the new program called “Medicare” just enacted by the federal government. Planning for Health, the member newsletter, carried an article introducing members to Medicare: “If you are 65 or over on July 1, 1966, your Health Plan coverage will be changed . . . Medicare covers a broad range of benefits.” Members were urged to tell their friends about the new coverage.
In the winter of 1968, Planning for Health had articles about KP’s $80 million, four-year plan to build new facilities and to update others. This program called for a new medical center in South San Francisco, and additions to those in Oakland, Hayward, Vallejo, San Rafael, Walnut Creek and Sacramento. New medical centers were planned for West Los Angeles and San Diego, and additions were planned for four Southern California medical centers and for one in Portland, Ore
Planning for Health editors ran a cover story in the winter of 1969 edition about the 1960s as the “Decade of Change for Medicine.” The article’s author wrote: “Experimental organ transplants, Medicare and The Pill collected headlines during the past decade, but medicine made gigantic strides forward in less glamorous areas as well. . . examples are the almost complete eradication of polio through universal immunization (and) the development of vaccines for mumps, measles, and Rubella (German measles) . . . ”
Membership in the Northern California Region alone increased from 375,000 in 1960 to over 920,000 by the end of the 1960s. In all other regions, membership increased from 807,000 to nearly 2 million.
The winter 1975 issue of Planning for Health carried a story about research involving 11,000 sets of twins. “(Twins) offer the unique opportunity to examine how heredity and environment interact to affect the total health picture,” the article reported.
Are you having fun jogging?
Stuart Frank, MD, wrote an article for the winter 1977 issue of Planning for Health about the pros and cons of jogging. Praising the activity for its many benefits, Frank admits: “I stopped jogging when it . . . was no longer fun.” Enjoying yourself is the only good reason for jogging, he said. “Life is too short to inflict this regular punishment on your feet and psyche if you don’t enjoy it.”
In the 1980s, the new Reporter (for employees) emerged with magazine-style articles that reflected the changing role of women and other social issues of the time. In December 1984, Molly Prescott interviewed three pregnant KP managers about how they coped with work and family life. “I told my boss not to treat me any differently just because I was pregnant,” Cora Tellez, an accounting manager, told Prescott. “He took me at my word, and didn’t cut down on his demands or expectations of me.”
The same issue carried a story by Kaaren Poole, who interviewed KP employees about using personal computers for the first time. There was also a first person story by staffer JoAnn Lieberman, “On being Jewish at Christmas.”
Remembering year’s sad eventsThe December 1987 edition highlighted KP’s part in the “Names Project,” the creating of a quilt whose pieces commemorated individuals who had died from AIDS. KP South San Francisco employee JoAnne Melody said: “The quilt project gives us all a chance to look at this disease with a little more heart, to see the (patients) as people, not just statistics.”
The Loma Prieta Earthquake in October 1989 prompted an article on disaster preparedness in the winter 1989-90 issue of Planning for Health; the winter 1990 issue of Spectrum (for employees) carried a story about the 50 KP employees who suffered significant financial losses in the quake. Funds were created to help employees, including 27 whose homes were severely damaged.
The 1991 year-end issue of the employee newsletter Contact reported that relief funds were set up for the victims of the Oakland/Berkeley Hills fire. Homes belonging to 80 KP physicians and employees were among the 3,800 dwellings destroyed by the firestorm. “Our thoughts and best holiday wishes are with all the people of Kaiser Permanente, especially those affected by the fire,” the Contact editor wrote.