Archive for August, 2010

Mending Lives in the WWII Kaiser Richmond Shipyards

posted on August 28, 2010

by Jacqueline Brown

Jacqueline Brown, Communications Associate in Kaiser Permanente’s Brand Strategy Communications and Public Relations, is a 2010 graduate in Rhetoric and Media Studies from Willamette University, Salem, Oregon.

People from all over the country flocked to Richmond, California, in 1941 to work at the Kaiser Shipyards. Having endured the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression, migrant workers flooded Richmond by the thousands seeking employment in the suddenly booming World War II Home Front economy.

For most of these workers the yards provided a much needed stable income. More than a few arrived in frail health, without family network support, and challenged by economic necessity.  They found a helping hand in the community benefit programs of Kaiser Industries.

Helen Amy Mason in “Welfare Services for Members of the Permanente Plan of Prepaid Medical Care,” a graduate thesis submitted in 1946 to the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a view into the circumstances that challenged many of these workers.

Henry Kaiser visits a shipyard worker at the Oakland Permanente Hospital

Mason describes the hardships and the liberal assistance Henry Kaiser offered through the Department of Employee Welfare of the Richmond Shipyards and the Hospital and Medical Care Program of the Permanente Foundation.

The Department of Employee Welfare provided personal and financial services to those who fell ill or who were injured on the job, especially those without the support of family. The staff made bed-side hospital calls and offered essential meal and child care arrangements, banking, shopping, and transportation services throughout convalescence to recovery.

The Department also administered the “Help a Buddy Fund,” a voluntary community service chest funded through a worker payroll deduction (about 25 cents per week) and distributed according to need for groceries, rent, child care, etc., with no restrictions attached.

The Hospital and Medical Care Program of the Permanente Foundation provided emergency financial assistance to workers who could not meet medical expenses, either because they had elected not to enroll in the health plan, or because they were confronted with circumstances not covered by the plan, long-term hospitalization (the plan provided 111 days) for mental illness or tuberculosis, for example.  The ill or injured breadwinner was often the beneficiary, or his children, the comprehensive “family” plan coverage debuting late in the war effort.

One example is that of a woman who was admitted to the hospital with a heart condition that caused frequent attacks that required numerous and extended hospitalizations for two to four weeks at a time. She was the mother of two children and the sole source of income for her family.  The Foundation covered the cost of her frequent and extended hospitalizations.

The Department of Employee Welfare and The Permanente Health Plan in the Kaiser Shipyards – today’s Kaiser Foundation Health Plan – mended more than broken bones in the Richmond shipyard community. As Dr. Clifford Kuh, a Permanente physician in the Richmond yards, put it: “The distinguishing characteristic of the Permanente Health Plan, besides prepayment, is it’s focus on the community.”

The tradition continues to the present day. Last year, for example, Kaiser Permanente gave a $5.2 million gift to the UCLA School of Public Health to endow the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity—a center dedicated to improving the health of underserved populations through research, community collaboration and leadership development.

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KP’s ‘Baby in the Drawer’ Helped Turn the Tide Back to Breastfeeding Babies after World War II

posted on August 23, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director of Heritage Resources

Since this is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, you may have read that Kaiser Permanente believes that one of the most important ways a mother can promote the health of her baby is to choose to breastfeed exclusively.

That’s a position that is based on more than a half-century of tradition that began in the 1950s with Kaiser Permanente as one of the leaders in reversing early 20th century trends that led American women to more commonly bottle-fed their babies.

The story also is one of the most popular in Kaiser Permanente lore: The Baby in the Drawer.

The “Baby in the Drawer” hospital room from 1953 was featured a half century later as a replica in a 2004 Oakland Museum of California special exhibit on the life and impact of Henry J. Kaiser, in this case in co-founding of Kaiser Permanente with Dr. Sidney R. Garfield.

The story begins one evening in the early 1950s when several doctors and their families were socializing at the home of Dr. John G. Smillie, an early Permanente Medical Group pediatrician. Smillie told founding Kaiser Permanente physician Sidney R. Garfield he had read an interesting article about the now famous Yale University School of Medicine research experiments with rooming-in for mothers and babies.

Well, this was a prime example of the kind of innovation Garfield fostered, always scanning the environment for new ideas or research findings and quickly applying them to the care of his growing Kaiser Permanente patient population.  Garfield was in the process of designing three brand new hospitals for San Francisco, Los Angeles and Walnut Creek. He locked on to the rooming-in idea, adding the Baby in the Drawer.

Garfield arranged each mother’s maternity room in a circle around an adjacent nursery. A bassinet for the infant was set in an ordinary metal file drawer built into the wall separating the mother’s room and the nursery.

“When the mother wanted to take care of the baby,” Garfield explained, “she’d pull the drawer out and there was the baby. (If) she wanted to put it back in the nursery,  she could put it back in. That was a great hit.”

This allowed a newborn to be adjacent to its mother while also being under the direct supervision of the medical staff. A simple light signal would tell the nurse whether a baby was in the nursery or in its mother’s room.

Because Garfield believed strongly in research and innovation, the Baby in the Drawer proved to be one of the best illustrations of his further belief that these principles could keep care cost-effective, bring better patient outcomes and make Kaiser Permanente a better place to work. The reasons: the Baby in the Drawer reduced an estimated seven out of 10 steps for the maternity nurses, large numbers of mothers chose to breastfeed as a result of the system, and it improved bonding between baby and mother.

That it was, as Dr. Garfield put it, “a great hit” has been borne out by history.

When Ora Huth, an oral historian in the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California at Berkeley, interviewed Dr. Smillie in 1985 as part of a series with Kaiser Permanente pioneers, he told her the Baby in the Drawer story.  Huth interrupted him to announce she had used the Baby in the Drawer system in San Francisco.

“I thought it was such a great idea,” Huth says in the published oral history.
“Now you know where the idea came from,” the late Dr. Smillie responded.
In 2004, when the Oakland Museum of California did a special exhibition on the life of Henry J. Kaiser, co-founder of Kaiser Permanente with Dr. Garfield, it included a life-size replica of the Baby in the Drawer hospital room.

Today, whenever I give a talk about this concept I’m almost always guaranteed that someone in the audience will come up to me afterward to announce, “I was a Baby in the Drawer.” It’s equally likely that the person was breastfed as an infant because Dr. Garfield was helping to turn the tide away from bottle feeding after World War II.

I’m sure Dr. Garfield would be smiling if he could see the Kaiser Permanente News Center website item: Kaiser Permanente’s Care Delivery and Research Support Breastfeeding to Promote Healthy Families.

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Children’s art scholar finds wartime treasure on newsprint

posted on August 10, 2010

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Joe Fischer is no stranger to art. He’s no stranger to children’s art. A Berkeley resident and former UC Berkeley professor, Joe Fischer has written five books on Indonesian art and culture. He spent 25 years visiting and studying Indonesia, and he has been curator of many exhibits on Indonesian traditional art and children’s art.

Joe Fischer with furniture from World War II Richmond shipyard children’s art program

Joe Fischer is also no stranger to war. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II and visited the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki within two weeks after their destruction by Allied atomic bombs.

So when Joe heard about the rich collection of children’s art from the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards child care centers, needless to say, he was intrigued. The more he explored the boxes full of children’s paintings and cut-and-paste artwork preserved at the Richmond Museum of History, the more fascinated he became.

Joe quickly understood the significance of the children’s uninhibited observations of life on the home front. Given the creation in 2000 of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front national park in Richmond, Joe’s passion for bringing the art to light seemed to hit the right note. Sharing his enthusiasm with the staff of the new park, they agreed the museum had indeed captured a national treasure-trove.

The little noticed collection of 5,000-plus pieces brims with creativity,individuality, emotion and small-child confidence. Joe’s diligent study and interpretation of the art –and the enthusiastic support of the museum board of directors – culminated this summer in the publication of “Children’s Art & Children’s Words.” The book includes 185 color plates of the artwork, as well as direct quotes from the 2- to 12-year-olds about their masterpieces as told to their teachers.

Focus on individual artists

“The focus (of this book) is on the paintings of individual children, comments by them and their teachers, and the environment in which this took place,” Joe says in the introduction. “The child care program in all its various aspects was an extraordinary educational model. It provided care, nurture, materials, and creative outlets for thousands of children. Such a comprehensive child care program had probably never existed in the United States before the war nor has one been developed since, he adds.

The children’s art collection, which includes pieces from 1943 through 1966, only exists due to the foresight of the late Monica Haley, longtime art director of the child care centers. She retained the children’s work and their comments conscientiously, realizing their historical value. Subsequent to her retirement in 1966, Haley donated the entire collection to the Richmond Museum of History. Richmond’s child care centers’ art created after that date has been lost to history. Joe devotes a whole chapter of the book to Haley.

Veronica Rodriguez, Isabel Jenkins Ziegler, and Pavlos Salamasidis of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park with child’s art easel from World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care center

Kaiser child care breaks new ground

The Richmond child care program began in 1943 through the collaboration of Henry J. Kaiser, the U.S. Maritime Commission and the Richmond school district. Kaiser, who ran the shipyards, saw the critical need for high quality, around-the-clock care for the children of mothers working on ships. Although society had frowned on mothers working outside the home, the war urgency put that attitude on hold.

Kaiser worked through the Maritime Commission to obtain funds to build and subsidize the centers, and the school district received federal funds. The Lanham Act set up wartime funding to help war production communities, like Richmond, accommodate ballooning populations. The federal money earmarked initially for fire stations, roads, schools, and other local services, was also approved for construction and operation of child care centers.

The Richmond child care program had 14 sites during the war years. Set up by the best child care experts of the time, including Catherine Landreth, PhD, of the UC Berkeley Institute of Child Welfare, the program was groundbreaking. The buildings were thoughtfully designed to make the environment comfortable and healthy for children.

The routine included a health check, nutritious meals planned by a dietitian, plenty of rest, outside play, and lessons in art and music. There were sleeping rooms for naps and overnight stays, child-sized sinks and toilets, lockers, and a sick room to isolate ailing students. The school district took care in making the experience educational and stimulating. For all this, the parents paid 50 cents a day, 60 cents if they had breakfast.

Bubble bursts when war ends

After the war, the shipyards closed and the federal funding for child care centers dried up. But there were still many women in Richmond and many other places who wanted or needed to continue working. So the Richmond community lobbied the federal and state government to continue the funding. They were successful, and California became one of only few states that continued child care after the war.

Maritime Child Development Center, 10th and Florida in Richmond, to be restored for use as school and museum

At the same time, the Kaiser Shipyards child care programs in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, shut down completely. The Northwest child care centers, also influenced by UC Berkeley child development experts, did not have the community support needed to keep them open. However, experience in these child care centers contributed invaluably to the study of child development, and the legacy informs current practice.

The Richmond schools continued to operate preschools on essentially the same wartime principles until around 1967.   A variety of federal, state and local funding sources, including Head Start, have continued a semblance of the program to the present.

One of the original Kaiser-built centers, the Maritime Child Development Center at 10th and Florida streets in Richmond, has been designated a national historical landmark. Renovation of the center is under way, and Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park museum curators are collecting and interpreting historical artifacts, such as furniture from the original wartime program. The center, to house classrooms and a National Park Service museum, is scheduled to open in 2011.

The Richmond Museum of History also operates the restored SS Red Oak Victory, a World War II ship built in Richmond and docked at the Rosie the Riveter national park. To find out more:

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