Archive for May, 2010

As World War II ended 65 years ago, Henry J. Kaiser Led the National Drive to Collect Millions of Pounds of Clothes for Overseas War Relief

posted on May 26, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director of Heritage Resources

Sixty-five years ago Friday, May 28, the New York Times reported that Henry J. Kaiser, as national chairman of the United National Clothing Collection, had announced that more than 125 million pounds had been gathered on the way to a 150-million-pound goal for overseas war relief.

It was a momentous time as America prepared for the first Memorial Day following Germany’s unconditional surrender—VE Day—less than three weeks earlier and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt only six weeks earlier.

In an example of Henry Kaiser’s spirit of supporting the social needs of people, he had agreed in January to chair the clothing drive at the request of President Roosevelt.

Said the President in a Jan. 22 letter to Kaiser: “…As many war victims have died from exposure and a lack of adequate clothing as have died from starvation… The importance of the cause demands a leader who will stimulate thousands of our people throughout the land to give vast amounts of volunteer service, as well as inspire all Americans everywhere to contribute all the clothing they can spare. I am confident your personal leadership will command the nationwide cooperation needed for success…”

Henry Kaiser had never led such a national campaign before, but took up the cause with the same gusto with which he had built ships for the war, and which had earned him nicknames as the “can-do” industrialist and the “patriot in pinstripes.”

There is enough spare clothing in America’s clothes closets and attics,” he said, “to go far toward relieving the stress of these innocent people.”

By a mid-March kick-off, Kaiser had 2,500 volunteer local chair people lined up on his way to 7,600 for the drive. The goal was surpassed with a total of 150,366,014 pounds of used clothes, shoes and bedding shipped overseas.

Clothing drive poster was used nationwide in Henry Kaiser-led overseas war relief effort.

As if that were not enough, Kaiser repeated the feat after VJ Day— the surrender of Japan on Aug. 14, 1945.

World War II was finally over and Kaiser this time responded to a request from President Harry Truman.

The sponsoring agency for both volunteer drives was the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which had been formed by participating World War II allied nations. It was disbanded after the war, with its functions transferred to agencies of the newly formed United Nations, establishment of which had been supported by Kaiser.

By example, Kaiser further embedded into his organizations a spirit of service to the common good that continues to this day within his lasting legacy, Kaiser Permanente, co-founded with surgeon Sidney R. Garfield and open to the public in October 1945.

As one of his biographers, Albert P. Heiner, summed it up: “…Once again, Kaiser had proved he was more than an exciting industrialist, he was a man with a heart.”

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Rosie park in Richmond not just for Rosies

posted on May 19, 2010

By Ginny McPartland   

World War II changed everything. Women dared to strike out for the first time into a man’s world of work. America’s harbors sprouted hyperactive shipyards, and a burgeoning U.S. heavy industry turned out the steady stream of weapons and vehicles needed to outlast our enemies. “We won the war because we out-produced everyone else,” observed Lucille “Penny” Price, a Richmond, California, shipyard electrician during the war. 

Diverse shipyard workers in class

A grateful American society has been thanking the stereotypical “Rosie the Riveter” for her role in war production ever since the war ended 65 years ago. About 25 percent of the hundreds of thousands of West Coast shipyard workers were women, but the park is really dedicated to all home front workers – welders, electricians, pipe fitters, cleaners, helpers – everyone. 

Telling the “Rosie” stories, as well as chronicling the dramatic societal changes the war spawned, is the mission of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park in Richmond. The park sits on the Richmond waterfront where the wartime Kaiser shipyards were situated. 

Celebrating World War II’s home front legacy 

As the nation marks the 65th anniversary of the war’s end this year, the Rosie park celebrates its 10 years as an institution dedicated to keeping the lessons of World War II from being forgotten. Kaiser Permanente, whose medical care program started in the Kaiser West Coast shipyards in 1945, also celebrates its decade-long association with the park to keep the war’s legacy alive. 

The health plan’s contributions to the park’s mission will be formally recognized on Monday, May 24, when the city of Richmond and the National Park Service present Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Director Tom Debley with the 2010 Home Front Award. Debley is being honored for “initiatives to create and support the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.” 

Ambulances at the ready in Richmond

The powerful synergy of the national park-Kaiser Permanente partnership was highlighted at a recent party to raise funds for the Rosie the Riveter National Park Trust. Debley was guest speaker and gave his talk about the history of health care reform. 

About 150 people attended the annual event in the old cafeteria on the former site of Kaiser Shipyard No.3, raising $38,000 for various trust community projects. These projects include Rosie’s Girls, a summer camp for adolescent girls; restoration of Atchison Village wartime housing, which is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to work by the Rosie trust. You can find out more about trust projects at 

The cafeteria, an ugly duckling the day before, was transformed into a lovely swan by Saturday night. NPS Ranger Elizabeth Tucker, along with Rosie Trust dinner co-chairperson Jane Bartke and others, dressed up the place with a couple hundred posters, photos and other war era artifacts. Rosemary Blaylock, a friend of Bartke, collected products and household items that recalled a simpler time before the war. She made up see-through packets that contained wartime candies M&Ms, malt balls, and bite-size York’s Peppermint patties. 

Among the guests at dinner was a sunny Kaiser Permanente President and CEO George Halvorson and his photographer wife Lorie Halvorson; pioneering Permanente physicians Morris Collen and Ed Schoen, who treated shipyard workers; Diane Hedler, director of Quality for the Permanente Federation and Rosie trust board member; Alide Chase, senior vice president of Quality and Safety; Robert Erickson, retired chief counsel for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals; Glen Hentges, chief financial officer for the Permanente Federation; Clair Lisker, retired hospital nursing administrator and educator, her family including her son Wes Lisker a physician at Hayward Medical Center; John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions; Dianne Dunlap, August’s deputy and member of the Rosie trust board; Holly Potter, vice president, public relations and stakeholder management, Brand Strategy, Communications and Public Relations; Bill Graber, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Board of Directors member; Richard Reed, senior project manager, Health Plan Process Administration; and Mark Aquino, Patient Care Services. 

Of course, the national park service was well represented by Ranger Betty Soskin Reid, our most celebrated local Rosie who worked in the shipyards and is the oldest ranger in the park system; park Superintendent Martha Lee; Ric Borjes, Chief of Cultural Resources for four Bay area park sites; and Elizabeth Tucker, park ranger and all-around get-things-done person. Other special guests of the night were Bernice Grimes, of Walnut Creek, who was a scaler at the Kaiser shipyards,  Mary Gillum, of Portland, Ore., who was a machinist in an Oregon Kaiser shipyard, and Marian Sousa, a draftswoman in Shipyard #3. 

Rosie Marian Wynn, a wartime pipe welder, Marjorie Hill, a Red Oak Victory volunteer, Amanita Cornejo, a Contra Costa College volunteer, and Marian Sousa helped with set-up and clean-up for the dinner. 

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50 Years Ago: The Birth of Computers in KP Medicine

posted on May 13, 2010

By Tom Debley

Dr. Sidney Garfield is seen in 1970 in an experimental health education center when he and his colleagues worked on his idea of "a building for health" built around the idea of central compuyting and health education.

Kaiser Permanente today is arguably the most advanced non-governmental health care organization in the country, and perhaps in the world, in the use of computers in medicine. A key historic reason for that leadership is its pioneering role. So this week we recognize the moment this work all began exactly 50 years ago.

The big lesson is that innovation did not occur through magic. It took vision, openness to new ideas, and dedicated work by thousands of people over the ensuing decades.

The result is that, at a time when electronic medical record systems have barely scratched the surface of American medicine, they are pervasive throughout Kaiser Permanente. All 8.6 million members have their own electronic medical records, which are also available throughout the organization’s 36 hospitals.

What’s more, the system’s Web-based member portal enables members to view most portions of their own medical record on line, send secure messages to their doctors, order prescriptions, make appointments, view lab results, and much more.

The critical moment when the futuristic vision of computer-enabled medical care came together with an organizational willingness to embrace new ideas came in May 1960. At a four-day leadership meeting, Sidney R. Garfield, our founding physician, was giving a report about hospital designs. Then, he shifted gears and announced, “I would like to use my remaining minutes on a more important, new concept. I want to throw this idea on the table for your consideration. Please accept it in the spirit it is given. It is a controversial idea, but please keep an open mind.”

It was a whopper.

“Let us conceive a building for health—designed, streamlined and geared to serve our healthy members. This health institute could conceivably function in this fashion. Each new health plan member would automatically and periodically be called in for service. On his first visit, a history would be taken and fed in a computer.

“A duplicate of this history would be sent to his service area. On each periodic visit or service visit, further data would be taken . . . and fed into this record. This would not only develop records never before available, but might do so at a great savings in time of physicians.”

The late Dr. John G. Smillie, who was at the meeting, commented on the discussion at the time that physicians who were there felt Garfield’s proposal “had exciting merit,” adding they said “it should be studied from many angles, and designed and redesigned… (and) should be made flexible to meet new developments…”

Dr. Morris F. Collen is seen in a photo shot for the cover of Modern Medicine magazine in 1968.

Over the next decade, the 1960s, research and testing headed by Garfield’s colleague, Morris F. Collen, MD, propelled Kaiser Permanente into a leadership role in the emerging field of medical informatics.

Within that decade, more than one million patients had early versions of electronic medical records and became more involved in their own care because of the new levels of knowledge available to them and their doctors.

“It was the first transformational aspect of looking at how the system of caring for patients could change,” recalls Dr. Marion J. Ball, author of “Consumer Informatics: Applications and Strategies in Cyber Health Care” and adjunct professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

Dr. Collen recognized in the early years of his work that the computer would be an incredibly important tool in modern medicine, declaring in 1966: “The computer will probably have the greatest impact on medical science since the invention of the microscope.”

Dr. Cecil C. Cutting, the first executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, challenged all physicians in 1965 to embrace the future in a talk to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“. . . The great challenge,” he said, “will be the willingness of traditional medicine to accept these new concepts and reorganize to provide these services. The future . . . in medicine may well rest on the open-mindedness of the doc¬tors of the country to anticipate inevitable trends and lead the way. We earnestly hope they will.”

That Kaiser Permanente was changing from a pioneer to a continuing leader in health information technology (IT) was well established by 1968, when its annual report stated: “The computer cannot replace the physician, but it can keep essential data moving smoothly from laboratory to nurses’ station, from X-ray department to the patient’s chart, and from all areas of the medical center to the physician himself.”

This early embrace of health IT – and persistent work in the half century since – explains why, as I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, 12 of the first 13 American hospitals to be rewarded by HIMSS, the leading health IT association, for having the highest level of e-connectivity were Kaiser Permanente hospitals. This year, 24 Kaiser Permanente hospitals have achieved that status, with more on the way. Meanwhile, less than 1 percent of America’s hospitals are at this stage.

What was said of Dr. Garfield two decades ago is just as true today: “Sidney Garfield…had a way of always operating on the cutting edge of the future.”

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In Memory of Lena Horne & Launch of the SS George Washington Carver Liberty Ship

posted on May 10, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director of Heritage Resources

Singer Lena Horne prepares to launch the SS George Washington Carver on May 7, 1943 at Kaiser Shipyard No. 1 in Richmond, Calif. This was taken by black photographer E. F. Joseph for the Office of War Information.

This week we pay tribute to the great jazz singer Lena Horne, who died Sunday, May 9, at the age of 92.

What’s her connection to Kaiser Permanente? Sixty-seven years ago, on May 7, 1943, Lena Horne broke a bottle of champagne across the bow to launch the SS George Washington Carver, a brand new Liberty ship built in Henry J. Kaiser’s legendary World War II shipyards in Richmond, Calif.

She was proudly representing the more than 7,000 African American shipyard workers — 1,000 of them female “Rosie the Riveters” — and all of whom received their health care from the medical care program that would become Kaiser Permanente after the war.

Their story is part of Kaiser Permanente’s long and proud history of ethnic and cultural diversity.

The SS George Washington Carver was the first Kaiser-built Liberty ship to be named for a famous African American, and many of the men and women who built it were African Americans.

Anna Bland, a burner, is shown at work on the SS George Washington Carver as it was being rushed to completion in the spring of 1943.  Photograph by E. F. Joseph for the Office of War Information.

Carver, you will recall, was the scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who had died only four months earlier in 1943. Who better to christen her on her maiden voyage than one of America’s most admired  and talented African American women?

Also on hand that day was a well-known African American photographer, E. F. Joseph, who recorded the event for the Office of War Information.

The ship was initially assigned by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) to the American South African Line, Inc. for merchant service. But in November 1943 the ship was turned over to the United States Army and converted to the Hospital Ship Dogwood.

In January 1946, the ship was again converted to carry a combination of troops and military dependents as the USAT George Washington Carver before retiring to National Defense Reserve Fleet.  It was sold for scrap in 1964.

Today, the story of these African American workers, the SS George Washington Carver, and its launch by Lena Horne is one of the legacy stories of the Home Front that is part of the history that is shared in the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.

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Henry Kaiser: A Model of “Leading by Example,” the Theme of National Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week

posted on May 4, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director, Heritage Resources

“Leading by Example” is the theme of national Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week (May 2-8), so it seems a good topic on which to reminisce about how Henry J. Kaiser, the co-founder of Kaiser Permanente, instilled a culture of ethical behavior in all of his businesses.

“A key attribute Kaiser demanded in any executive was rock solid integrity,” noted Mark S. Foster in his biography “Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modern American West” “Kaiser occasionally taught lessons in personal integrity even to ‘outsiders.’” Foster added.

Anecdotes illustrating ethical themes often became legendary in Kaiser’s organizations, and he sometimes spared no expense in creating such stories in order to lead by example.

Once, for instance, a building inspector spotted a construction error when Kaiser was building his famous Hawaiian Village Hotel at Waikiki Beach in the 1950s. Two free-standing guest cottages were too close together by six inches, the building inspector found. Albert P. Heiner, another of Kaiser’s biographers, recalled that the inspector intimated the problem could be “settled by a small payment.”

“…All of his life Kaiser had an inviolable rule against payoffs of any kind,” Heiner explained in his book, “Henry J. Kaiser: Western Colossus.” So when the cottage issue came to Kaiser’s attention on a Friday and he was told the inspector would return on Monday, Kaiser told key executive Lambreth Hancock, “Get a crew, hold them overtime, cut off six inches from the end of that cottage, put it back together, repaint it, and get it all finished before Monday when the inspector comes back to work.”

The inspector re-measured the distance on Monday morning, repeating the task several times in disbelief. He entered Hancock’s office humbled and apologetic. “I must have been mistaken,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Weeks later, still puzzling over the matter, the inspector asked Hancock what really had happened. Hancock finally told him, adding, “Kaiser would do that a thousand times before he would pay anybody a nickel.”

This episode came near the end of his life, but Kaiser’s reputation for integrity had been lore throughout his life.

On one of his early jobs, Foster recounted, the road building company for which he worked was caught up in a power struggle. When one faction gained the advantage, they asked Kaiser to line up with them and to “doctor” his construction reports. They wanted to make the other side look bad.

“This roused Henry’s ire,” Foster wrote. “He said that there wasn’t enough money in the world to make him do it. His supervisors advised him to cooperate, or he would be fired.”

When Kaiser’s paychecks stopped, Foster continued, “Kaiser proved his basic integrity then and there.” The 31-year-old spent the next four months meeting unfinished contracts without pay.

“He could have walked off those jobs, and few would have faulted him,” Foster concluded. Instead, “Kaiser’s conduct won him warm admirers and future customers.”

“Leading by example” was no motto to Henry Kaiser. It was a way of life.

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