Posts Tagged ‘Stanford University’

When the (poker) chips are down, Sidney Garfield plays it cool

posted on November 20, 2012

By Steve Gilford
Senior consulting historian

Gerald “Jerry” Searcy, center, with nurse Winnie Wetherill (later Neighbor), at left, and an unidentified nurse outside of Mason City Hospital in the late 1930s.

In 1938, when Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield recruited surgeon Cecil Cutting to join him at Grand Coulee Dam, Dr. Cutting persuaded nurse anesthetist Geraldine “Jerry” Searcy to come along.

Cutting had confidence in Searcy, having worked with her at San Francisco General Hospital after he completed his medical training at Stanford University in the mid-1930s.  He knew she would be an asset to the medical care program set up for Henry Kaiser’s 5,000 construction workers.

Searcy remained with the program from 1938, through the Second World War, until her retirement from the Oakland Medical Center 34 years later. Jerry Searcy told me an anecdote about a personal experience that reflected Dr. Garfield’s managerial style. She liked the story because it helped her to explain why the medical staff was so fond of him.

‘Garfield not bossy’– Geraldine Searcy, 1985. KP Reporter photo.

Her story begins one evening in the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland during the War. The normally busy hospital was unusually quiet that night with little for the staff to do. On that slow night, head physician Garfield just happened to drop by the ward where Searcy was working. His unexpected visit found the staff taking advantage of the quiet by playing a spirited game of poker.

For poker chips, the crew was using pink and white aspirin tablets they’d taken from the supply cupboard. Searcy recalled that Garfield was upset because this misuse of medication was a waste of hospital supplies. He asked them to stop and of course they did – immediately.

The next day the poker players waited somewhat anxiously to see what additional disciplinary measures they might have to face. Garfield surprised them, though. Instead of criticizing them further or meting out some sort of punishment, he donated a set of real poker chips to the hospital.

“From then on,” Searcy remembered: “staff members on call could play poker without disturbing hospital supplies.”

Garfield ‘not at all bossy’

Searcy, who died in 1993, was quoted in a February 1985 KP Reporter edition honoring Dr. Garfield following his death:

“I remember Sid as a very friendly, humble man, not at all bossy, although he did believe in hard work and discipline. Nothing was beneath him, nor beyond him. Once at Grand Coulee, Sid was walking around the hospital without his white coat, looking very youthful with his bright red hair and casual clothes.

“A patient saw him and shouted, ‘Boy! Would you take care of this?’ pointing to his bedpan. Sid wasn’t at all offended. He laughed and emptied the bedpan. Of course the patient had no idea who Sid was,” she said.  She continued:  “Dr. Garfield liked to sing ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ while performing surgery at Grand Coulee.

“To me Sid was a colleague and a friend. He must have been a leader, though he never waved a flag or beat a drum.”

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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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