Posts Tagged ‘Ray Kay MD’

Southern California Permanente Medical Group celebrates 60 years

posted on January 8, 2014

By Steve Gilford
Senior consulting historian

Raymond Kay, MD, friend of Garfield and early leader of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, playing ping pong at the Desert Center  hospital site.

Raymond Kay, MD, friend of Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield and early leader of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, playing ping pong at the Desert Center hospital site. Kaiser Permanente Heritage photo

As an independent historian with a long-standing interest in Kaiser Permanente, I was fortunate to be invited to the daylong 60th anniversary celebration of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, held recently in Anaheim, Calif.

The event was to mark the medical group’s formal start in 1953 when 13 Permanente physicians, including Ray Kay, the first medical director, signed a partnership agreement that officially formed SCPMG.

The group’s origin actually goes back to 1943 when Henry J. Kaiser asked Permanente co-founder Sidney Garfield, MD, to establish a health care plan for workers of the Kaiser Steel mill in Fontana.

Today, SCPMG has more than 6,000 physicians practicing in 14 accredited Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and more than 190 medical office buildings.

Pride a theme of celebration

As I observed the events of the day (Sept. 28, 2013), I heard Permanente physicians express pride in the organization and its legacy. But at first I wasn’t entirely sure the expressions were genuine, or if it was similar to the type of pride shown for a football team or one’s alma mater.

As the day unfolded, it became increasingly clear that this was an authentic professional pride rooted in SCPMG’s 60-year history of trials and triumphs.

Pride in the organization can be traced back even further, to the tiny 12-bed hospital Sidney Garfield built in 1933 on a parched and lonely piece of desert land in one of the most physically inhospitable places in the United States.

The organization that sprang from that little frame building in the Mojave Desert, with its one doctor and one nurse, was being celebrated by thousands gathered together in one of the most populous and powerful metropolises of the nation.

Roll call gets vociferous response

Edward Ellison, MD, the SCPMG executive medical director, began the day by calling the roll of Southern California’s medical centers represented at the gathering.  Each medical center team responded to the call with a spontaneous cheer that resonated across the large hall.

There was no question that these physicians were enthusiastic, but it was not yet clear to me just why they were responding with such vigor. Was it like the way people in a talk-show studio audience react when someone mentions their hometown?

Was it just because they had found a comfortable place to practice medicine outside the increasingly stormy arena of fee-for-service medicine, relieved to be insulated from some of the stresses their professional colleagues were facing?

Frank Murray, MD, Kaiser Permanente Southern California medical group executive director, XXX. with Sam Sapin, MD. Sapin was instrumental in the development of the regional graduate medical education program, which opened its first residency program in 1955.

Frank Murray, MD, at left, Kaiser Permanente Southern California medical group executive director, 1982-1993, with Sam Sapin, MD, pediatric cardiologist and SCPMG quality leader.

Or was it truly because they were recognizing that they were a part of an organization that was truly special, with a leadership that encouraged them to practice preventive care and to take great care of their healthy members, as well as their sick patients?

Celebrities tout Permanente’s national role

As a part of the proceedings, there were dramatizations featuring Henry Kaiser, Sidney Garfield and even Rosie the Riveter – all well done and entertaining. They set the stage for Kevin Starr, noted California historian and author, and Nancy Snyderman, MD, chief medical editor, NBC News, and award-winning journalist.

The celebrities’ presentations put the achievements of Kaiser Permanente into perspective, each emphasizing the contribution of the organization to the nation’s health care.

Starr and Snyderman were the stars of the day, but for me the day’s high point was an onstage discussion by the four surviving SCPMG executive medical directors – Frank Murray, MD, 1982-1993, Oliver Goldsmith, MD, 1994- 2004, Jeffrey Weisz, MD, 2004-2011, and Edward Ellison, MD, current executive director.

They presented the organizational challenges that they had faced in their time and told how they had overcome them.

Through all their recollections flowed a strong streak of natural idealism that had helped them shape their responses to the challenges of their time at the helm. Their remarks – more than any other presentation – made it clear that SCPMG leaders created and passed on a strong legacy that was to be treasured, defended and enhanced.

As the day drew to a close, Dr. Ellison summed up what he felt was special about Permanente Medicine and SCPMG. We are building infrastructure for the future . . . I am confident that our approach to achieving the total health of our patients in mind, body and spirit is the successful path to that future.

“Our conquering, enduring spirit, combined with our passion for medicine and our caring from the heart, will sustain us for the next 60 years,” he told the group.

Often, when you hear such presentations made by leaders in front of their staffs, if you listen carefully you can hear quiet undertones of mildly cynical scoffing or snickering from the rank and file who may have a quite different perspective on the relation between idealism and reality.

That afternoon I was listening closely for that tell-tale buzz from among the 3,000 people in the hall. I didn’t hear it.

What I did hear was enthusiastic agreement with what Dr. Ellison was saying. I understood then that the pride I had sensed in the responses to his morning roll call of the medical centers had been genuine and had only been enhanced by the day’s focus on the achievements and potential of Permanente Medicine.

I left Anaheim with a renewed sense of pride in my association with Kaiser Permanente, for my modest part in searching out, saving and communicating its history to new generations of physicians who will preserve and expand the legacy begun by its founders.

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Thieves abscond with bronze historical marker at Desert Center

posted on August 8, 2013

By Steve Gilford, Senior Consulting Historian

Southern California physicians to replace plaque dedicated in 1992 to commemorate Sidney Garfield’s Contractors General Hospital

Plaque placed in 1992 commemorating Sidney Garfield MD's desert hospital. Recently, thieves pried the 110-pound marker from the boulder presumably to turn the bronze into cash.

Plaque placed in 1992 commemorating Sidney Garfield MD’s desert hospital. Recently, thieves pried the 110-pound marker from the boulder, probably planning to turn the bronze into cash.

I’ve recently returned from Southern California where I assessed the damage vandals and thieves wreaked to the historical marker near the site of Dr. Sidney Garfield’s 1933-built Contractors General Hospital.

This location is significant because it’s where Kaiser Permanente’s pioneer physician first discovered how prepaid, preventive medicine could make health care more affordable.

The 110-pound bronze plaque, placed at the historical site 21 years ago, has been pried off its base and stolen, presumably for the value of the metal. This is another occurrence of the national trend of thieves dismantling historical markers to turn bronze to cash.

I traveled to the desert not only to evaluate the loss but also to arrange for a replacement plaque. My journey was successful: I found a safe location for a new plaque and an enthusiastic benefactor to pay the bill.

In 100-plus-degree heat that is usual for the area, I surveyed nearby Chiriaco Summit, an active way station for desert travelers, with Margit Chiriaco Rusche, the daughter of founders Joe and Ruth Chiriaco. We found an appropriate site for a new plaque in an island of green vegetation which many visitors pass.

Locating historic hospital site

For me, this mission was personal. Twenty-seven years ago, I uncovered the hospital site where, in 1933, Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician had started his prepaid health plan for workers on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project.

Google Map of the location of the Contractors General Hospital in 1933

Google Map shows the vicinity of where the Contractors General Hospital stood in 1933.

In 1986, Stanley Ragsdale, self-described “desert rat” and owner of Desert Center in Southern California, accompanied me on an expedition to find the long lost site of Garfield’s hospital, six miles west of the little town on Interstate 10.

As we approached the area, we could make out the foundation outlines, which were all that remained of the facility abandoned in the late 1930s.  As someone with experience in archeological digs, I headed for the nearby garbage pit, in which I found medical artifacts that positively identified the site.

With this information and other research, I prepared an application and supporting materials for the site’s designation as a historical landmark. The California State Historical Commission unanimously authorized an official plaque recognizing the importance of the tiny hospital to American medicine.

In a 1986 ceremony, Sally Garfield Blackman, Dr. Garfield’s elder sister, unveiled the bronze plaque attached to a boulder near the spot where the once bustling hospital had stood.

Southern California physicians sponsor replacement plaque

Over the past two decades, the dusty town of Desert Center, with its two-block long main street, has fallen on hard times. The restaurant, gas station, general store, and ice cream stand are all gone. With no one around the abandoned town, the plaque was easy pickings for thieves, and several weeks ago they struck.

Raymond Kay, MD, friend of Garfield and early leader of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, playing ping pong on the hospital site.

Raymond Kay, MD, friend of Garfield and early leader of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, playing ping pong on the hospital site.

I mentioned the loss to Paul Bernstein, MD, San Diego area medical director for the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.  Bernstein (Twitter: @sdthinkbig), personally interested in the history of Contractors General, is as chagrined as I am by the marker’s disappearance.

He approached the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, and they have agreed to replace the plaque as part of SCPMG’s 60th anniversary celebration in September. This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the hospital’s founding.

Chiriaco motorist stop fitting site for new historic marker

Joe and Ruth Chiriaco founded their first store the same year that Dr. Garfield opened Contractors General Hospital; they knew the hospital and Dr. Garfield well.

Ruth Chiriaco, a registered nurse, had worked in nearby Indio with Betty Runyen, Dr. Garfield’s first nurse. Having met the Chiriacos in my previous research, I was pretty sure the family would be amenable to putting the new plaque near their business that includes a store, restaurant and gas station.

This fall, Dr. Garfield’s favorite nephew and closest living relative, Dr. Robert Blackman, and Blackman’s two sons will participate in the dedication, as will nurse Betty Runyen’s three children. Betty’s daughter Susan, a nurse with Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii, has just finished a novel based on her mother’s life at Contractors General Hospital. 

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