Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
Recently the Heritage team was asked to provide inspirational quotes from Kaiser Permanente’s founders for inclusion in a public sculpture park in Oakland, California. (We will have more to say about the park later this year.) We weighed in and uncovered something timely in sync with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Remembrance. The quote comes from Edgar F. Kaiser (1908-1981), Henry Kaiser’s eldest son, who served on President’s John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.
“The only kind of intolerance we can afford is intolerance of ourselves if we fail to bring forth from our own hearts and minds every last ounce of ingenuity and imagination and hard work needed to make equal employment opportunity not just the law of the land, but to make it the spirit, the intent and the actuality of our actions.”
— Edgar F. Kaiser
Edgar is largely obscured in the shadow of his illustrious father, but he was a man of civic mind and of no small accomplishment in his own right. Back in 2008, Tom Debley, formerly Director of KP Heritage Resources, called out Edgar’s induction in the organization’s Diversity Hall of Fame in the internal newsletter, KP Chronicles.
“Edgar F. Kaiser was inducted into the Kaiser Permanente Diversity Hall of Fame at the 30th annual National Diversity Conference in December 2007. Edgar Kaiser was co-founder Henry J. Kaiser’s eldest son who, among other things, brought his father together with founding physician Sidney R. Garfield.
His role in early diversity efforts included hiring the first woman shipyard worker in U.S. history as well as workers with physical disabilities during World War II. He succeeded his father as chairman of the KP Health Plan and Hospitals Boards of Directors.”
In addition to the KP diversity award, in 1969 Edgar was awarded the national Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to low-income housing. He served four U.S. Presidents. John Kennedy named him to the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Lyndon Johnson chose him to head the President’s Committee on Urban Housing and to serve on his Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Policy. Gerald Ford appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Refugees, and Jimmy Carter selected him for the Advisory Committee on National Health Insurance Issues. We look forward to bringing his many accomplishments to light this year in these pages.
By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
A day of service inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., was the perfect showcase for the budding gardens of Urban Tilth, a thriving nonprofit food growing concern in the heart of Richmond, Calif., near San Pablo Bay.
A crop of Richmond’s most stunning success stories were in evidence in the day-long celebration that included down-and-dirty weed picking by non-gardeners like me, expert planting by well-seasoned tillers and plenty of talented artists, singers, musicians, dancers and poets.
Thirty-seven Kaiser Permanente employees joined several hundred volunteers and visitors Monday at the linear farm site, which takes up the abandoned strip of land that once roared with Atchison-Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad cars.
Dubbed the Richmond Greenway, the recycled and rejuvenated piece of earth has given Richmond’s citizens new space to grow food and to get the fresh air and sunshine Mom always said we needed.
Blessed with a spring-in-January type of day, the Urban Tilth people were ready with mentoring on how to go about transforming overgrown beds into uncluttered and fertile plots for artichokes and other common vegetables to take root.
Community artists put the finishing touches on an oversized portrait of Jesus “Chuy” Vargas, a leading grower on the Richmond Greenway.The dug-up weeds were taken by wheel barrow to a place where they would be preserved to feed chickens kept elsewhere by one of Urban Tilth’s gardeners.
Healthy living on parade
Morning was the time to work; afternoon was more like play. On the stage, Zumba instructors led a short yet dynamic class in the art of getting fit by blending “red-hot” international music with Latin-inspired dance steps. The demonstration was an introduction to Richmond Main Street Initiative’s free Zumba classes that will resume in February.
Zumba fitness classes are offered as part of a community health initiative whose goal is to create an environment where making healthy choices is easy. That means making healthy food easily accessible and providing safe places for outdoor exercising. The pilot is sponsored by the West County Healthy Eating, Healthy Living Collaborative and receives funding from Kaiser Permanente.
The length of the gardening plot was punctuated with booths that put Richmond’s efforts toward reclaiming the good earth for healthy eating and living on display. Eco Village Farm staff served natural juice as an alternative to sugary soda, and they brought along their goat and two caged rabbits for urban kids to see and pet.
At one booth, you could make your own sachet with ingredients such as lavender supplied by the growers of aromatic flowers and herbs.
Community mural gets more paint
A colorful and varied mural, a work in progress involving many painters, defines the perimeters of the three-city-block stretch of miniature farms. An oversized painting of Jesus “Chuy” Vargas, co-manager with Rutillo Rivera of the Neighborhood Gardeners’ plots on the Greenway, can be seen from across the field. A painter keeps painting, even though the visage looks finished.1
The section of mural art bordering Berryland foreshadows the delights of spring. The lot has plots for strawberries, raspberries, goumi berries, blackberry, boysenberry and any other berry you can imagine. Tania Pulido, manager of Urban Tilth’s gardens at Sixth Street and our mentor for the day, told us she remembers the first time she ate a berry from the garden: “I thought, ‘I can’t believe you can grow this and eat it!’ ”
The wonder of gardening was upstaged, however, when the time came to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his life and legacy. For me, the most impressive of the performers were the young people who expressed through their art what it was like to grow up in Richmond, a city with a long-time reputation for crime, violence and poverty, especially in the African-American communities.
Voices of Reason, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts’ vocal group, sang several numbers, including one called “One in Kind” composed by Dana Salzman, leader of the group with Valerie Troutt.
Nyabhinga McDowell, a member of RAW Talent (part of Making Waves), delivered her amazing poem, “The Iron Triangle,” about overcoming seemingly impossible odds.
A thoroughly modern as well as creative young woman, she took her smart phone on stage for prompting in her recitation, which was flawless and hit the right dramatic note for a celebration of positive change.
1 The murals were created by the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP Bay Area) led by Desi Wome.
Photos by Ginny McPartland
Bryan Culp, Director
The KP Heritage Resources team, Bryan, Ginny and Lincoln, volunteered at the Richmond Greenway on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.
The Greenway is a walking, hiking and biking trail that offers community gardens, open space and the public arts for the citizens of Richmond. It follows the old Santa Fe rail bed that ran through Richmond to the shipyards and the refinery to Point Richmond. When the Greenway is finished (it opened in 2007) it will connect with the San Francisco Bay Trail on the west and with the Ohlone Greenway in the City of El Cerrito on the east.
We weeded, seeded, and mulched the flower and raised-bed vegetable gardens. And having met many new friends in Kaiser Permanente, we made short work of it with a small army of 400 good citizen volunteers from the greater Richmond area, finishing a little after mid-day to partake in the music festival and King remembrance.
I won’t forget the hush that fell over the crowd when the Reverend Phil Lawson, of Richmond, a friend of the slain civil rights leader downed by an assassin 45 years ago, evoked the spirit of the 1960’s civil rights movement. The Reverend recited the poetry of Edwin Markham (1852 – 1940), who captured the essence of divinely inspired non-violent protest in the poem, “Outwitted.”
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Ginny has a full story in the works on our Heritage workday on the Richmond Greenway and the friends that we made. Stay tuned!
You can read more on Kaiser Permanente’s community service on the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service at the KP News Center.
By Steve Gilford, Senior Consulting Historian
Some time ago, I located the archaeological site of founding physician Sidney Garfield’s original Contractors General Hospital. Built by Garfield in 1933 in the Mojave Desert 175 miles east of Los Angeles, the hospital is long gone.
In the facility’s trash pit I came across numerous large broken bottles. Each was embossed with the words “Property of Don L. Baxter – Chicago, Illinois.” The bottles were from Dr. Baxter’s fledgling company, which he had founded in 1931.
A few years later, I managed to track down Garfield’s first nurse, Betty Runyen, who had worked at that hospital 60 years before. When I mentioned all the broken bottles in the trash pit she smiled with delight.
She explained that “back in the day” those bottles had contained the ingredients for Ringer’s solution.This was a very useful medication – a solution containing sodium, potassium and calcium salts in a definite proportion – often given intravenously to surgical patients, trauma victims and to workmen who had collapsed in the desert heat due to severe dehydration.
Innovative syringe remnants found
In the pit, I also came across a Becton Luer-Lok syringe. The first product of the Becton-Dickinson Company in 1897 had been an all-glass syringe invented by a French instrument maker named H. Wulfing Luer. It had been a great success, featuring a standardized tapered fitting that guaranteed a leak-free fluid connection between syringe and needle.
Five years later, Fairleigh S. Dickinson made an improvement to the syringe when he added a twist-lock mechanism that held the hypodermic needle safely in place. It was a simple way to attach and to remove a needle from a syringe, minimizing the danger of the needle slipping off the tip while in use; it also reduced breakage of syringe tips.
The Becton-Dickinson Yale Luer-Lok Glass Syringe, as it was known, was a new development when Garfield opened Contractors General. At the time, it was better than the average syringe and cost more, but it would eventually become standard.
Despite his limited finances, he selected the more expensive, but safer, Luer-Lok. The fact that Garfield chose to spend the extra money for the better medical equipment is a glimpse into his medical priorities.
For more about Steve Gilford’s rediscovery of the Contractors General Hospital, go to the Permanente Journal.
By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
In 1930s America, manual labor of all types– farming, construction, and manufacturing – was dangerous. In those depressed and troubled times, anxious workers were glad to have a job despite the risk of injury or death. Statistics of the decade told the story: workers were killed at an annual rate of 37 per 100,000 employees.
It was in this environment that Sidney R. Garfield began to offer industrial medical care for some of the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project in 1933. Garfield addressed the problem head-on by encouraging safe work habits and identifying and eliminating hazards. Garfield, bent on keeping the workers well, actively nurtured a culture of safety awareness and accident prevention.
Garfield’s vigilance to ensure a safe workplace – key to his early preventive care philosophy – remains a vital part of the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan he started with Henry Kaiser almost 70 years ago.
Garfield and Kaiser found synergy in providing health care for Kaiser’s 8,000 workers at the Grand Coulee Dam project in Washington state starting in 1938. That was practice for the real test they faced in maintaining the health of shipyard workers during World War II.
No time to plan for war industries
With almost no time for preparation or planning, Kaiser hired almost 200,000 new employees to toil nonstop to support American and Allied war efforts. Henry Kaiser ran seven West Coast shipyards and a steel mill in Fontana, Calif. His workforce was not composed of the usual sturdy males with experience in the trades – those men were serving in the military. Most shipyard workers were migrants from the South and Midwest, and about a third of them were women. Many were disabled. Few had held industrial jobs before.
The Kaiser Shipyards managers instituted several measures to reduce workplace risk.
One approach was to take care to assign people to the right job when they were first hired. In early 1944, the War Manpower Commission contracted with Permanente Foundation Hospitals to compile data about the physical requirements of each job in the shipyard. This study resulted in a 627-page reference guide called the Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis.
After workers were hired, they were not placed in a job until managers could fully understand their physical capabilities. The job placement guide helped avoid assigning someone to a job they couldn’t physically handle.
The “Plate Acetylene Burner” job description in the guide reads: “Climbs 6 steps to and from assembly platform twice daily, and walks within 500’ x 65’ area to stand, stoop, reach down, grasp, lift, and carry up to 35 pounds of “burning” equipment (women), and up to 75 pounds (men) to place where burning is to be done (25% of job).”
An article in the June 1, 1944, San Francisco Call Bulletin noted the study’s long-term importance. The manpower commission’s regional director told the paper: “The technique (methodology) on which (the research) is based will be invaluable in the postwar period when thousands of returning service men and women will have to be fitted into new jobs.”
Another strategy was to conduct ongoing worker education about occupational hazards. The weekly shipyard newsletters regularly featured cartoons, articles, contests, and photos about the right and wrong way to perform any task. The Richmond newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft published a “Safety Boner Contest” cartoon created in the nearby Marinship yard (Sausalito) asking readers to identify hazards. Although 112 errors were intentionally drawn in, a zealous reader in a Vancouver (Washington) yard found 118.
Changes in law, technology curb hazards
Death and injury from industrial hazards such as coal dust, explosions, and asbestos have declined markedly in the past century, partly due to changing modes of production and partly due to progressive legislation.
One key step was the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, which helped accelerate an already improving work environment. In the 22-year period prior to OSHA’s existence, death rates dropped by 38 percent from the 1948 rate; in the first 22 years following its creation rates dropped by more than 61 percent.[i]
Hazards change. The most significant workplace health problem emerging in the late 20th century was the array of musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive stress. And today, in the health care field, other dangers lurk, such as needle sticks, exposure to contaminated human fluids, and getting injured while repositioning and lifting patients.
LMP works for reduction of KP workplace injuries
With the 1997 birth of Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership, worker safety programs took a huge leap forward. The LMP’s Workplace Safety Initiative, launched June 21, 2001, was the most comprehensive and ambitious effort to date, with a goal of reducing the number of workplace-related illnesses and injuries by 50 percent over the next four years.
“Too many people in our organization are being hurt on the job today,” said Dick Pettingill, then-president of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan in California. “This is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to all of us.”[ii]
The next year newly appointed KP Chairman and CEO George Halvorson and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called on employees, managers, and physicians nationwide to make their workplaces safer. “There is no reason why we should accept an environment in which accidents are occurring,” Halvorson said. “We’re all going to work together, in Partnership teams, to improve the safety of our workplace.”[iii]
Hundreds of trained two-person teams from labor and management toured medical centers and regional operations facilities in “Broad Engagement Walk-throughs” sponsored by Southern California Region’s Workplace Safety group. The teams talked to unit staff who also responded to surveys to help identify workplace safety issues.[iv]
KP HealthConnect® joins safety campaign
New technologies also demanded workplace safety planning. In 2004, the Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect® workplace safety team partnered with stakeholders in Northern California to minimize any negative ergonomic consequences of the new national electronic health record system. Equipment at 34,000 workstations and hundreds of nursing stations and exam rooms had been modified or replaced, so the workplace safety team developed customized carts, wall mounts, and other adjustments to make sure that the upgrades were safe for physicians and staff.[v]
One way the LMP plays a valuable role is through the site-specific unit-based teams and other natural clusters of workers with similar jobs. In 2004 the Los Angeles Medical Center’s Lift Teams (specially trained staff members who help nurses and physicians lift and move patients safely) reduced the number of workplace injuries by nearly 45 percent over a three-month period.[vi]
By the end of 2005, the Southern California injury rate had declined 29 percent – short of the 50 percent reduction goal but still a significant achievement. Northern California met its goal of 50 percent reduction one year later.
Another major effort is the KP Workplace Safety Program, which seeks to reduce injury on the job for all employees of Kaiser Permanente, from office workers to nurses to couriers. Planning and implementation is coordinated by a national leadership team with regional representation.
In Northern California, the WPS Program serves all represented employees, including those in non-LMP unions such as the California Nurses Association, Stationary Engineers Local 39, and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists.
The challenge continues. In 2011 Northern California WPS Program Executive Director Helen Archer-Duste, RN, MS, reiterated KP’s goal: “Working in health care is dangerous. I want to make us the safest place in health care . . . Our ultimate goal is to have a workplace with no injuries. I believe that can happen.”[vii]
Thanks to Kathy Gerwig (vice president, KP Employee Safety), Helen Archer-Duste (executive director, KP Workplace Safety and Care Experience), Patricia Hansen (KP regional workplace safety practice leader), and Maureen Anderson (Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions) for contributing to this article.
[ii]California Wire, “Workplace Safety Initiative: KP and Labor Partners Put Safety First,” Aug. 6, 2001.
[iii] California Wire, “U.S. Labor Leader, KP CEO, Employees, and Managers Launch Programwide LMP Workplace Safety Plans,” Nov. 4, 2002
[iv] California Wire, “Labor Management Partnership Reaches Staff in Workplace Safety ‘Walk-throughs’,” Nov. 11, 2002.
[v] California Wire, “Safety Is Key in KP HealthConnect® Deployment,” July 19, 2004.
[vi] California Wire, “Los Angeles Lift Team Wins LMP Award,” July 26, 2004.
[vii] “Workplace Injuries Plummet,” Inside KP, Nov. 8, 2011.