by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
This piece is a Thanksgiving offering, a display of our deep appreciation for all the health care professionals who keep us well.
Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources recently digitized some silent film footage of the Mason City (Washington) Hospital circa 1938. It shows doctors and nurses who were proud to serve at America’s largest Depression-era construction project, living under hardship conditions in a remote town with blistering heat and freezing cold.
This facility was the birthplace of the Kaiser Permanente health plan, where Dr. Sidney Garfield was brought up to care for the workers and families at Henry J. Kaiser’s massive Grand Coulee Dam project.
The original hospital at the site had fallen into disrepair and the unions claimed it was insufficient for their members’ health care. In 1938 Kaiser Industries won the contract to finish the dam, and Henry J. Kaiser and his son Edgar (General Manager of the project) spared no expense on a remodel. Among the many modern amenities installed was air conditioning.
In this clip Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield is seen exiting the recently-renovated facility to a gathering of doctors and nurses which includes Dr. Cecil Cutting (center of this frame, with a ball in his hand), Dr. Wallace Neighbor, nurse anaesthetist Geraldine “Jerry” Searcy, and RN’s Winifred Wetherill and Evie Sanger. The footage is short clip from recently digitized from Dr. Neighbor’s home movies, which also includes doctors on horseback, the local rodeo, scenes of Mason City, and dam construction.
See them thrive. Then go thrive yourself, and help build thriving communities.
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by John Fagundes, Heritage associate
The holidays bring joy and happiness – and often extra pounds. Kaiser Permanente is offering help with this concern through its “Maintain Don’t Gain” program which is available on line.
Weight control and dieting can be tough, especially during the holidays. A supportive group of friends can get you through it, which is what Kaiser Permanente’s doctors and dietitians realized 50 years ago when they established the Weight Reduction Clinic.
In the mid-1950s, a time of great plenty and expanding prosperity after years of hardship during the Great Depression and World War II food rationing, Americans could eat well, perhaps too well.
Kaiser Permanente was an early promoter of healthy lifestyles and developed a number of educational programs to encourage good nutrition and wellness.
Classes on maintaining health were initiated in medical centers–what we now call Wellness. One innovation was the Weight Reduction Clinic.
The program began in 1955 — nearly a decade before Weight Watchers swept the nation with its dieting support groups. Each week members got on the scale, and the group discussed diet issues, exchanged success stories, traded recipes and learned exercise tips.
The challenges of dieting could be shared with others going through the same rigors in the 16-week program.
A quote from 1958 Planning for Health seems contemporary in both content and approach:
“Group discussion helps patients examine and change their eating habits as they diet. People are encouraged by working with others who seek the same goal. They also get a better understanding of their feelings about eating and overweight — feelings that can undermine a diet if not recognized.”
Some things never change, which is why Kaiser Permanente continues to promote healthy eating during the season of feasts and every other time of year.
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, Heritage writer
Can heavy industry be a good neighbor? That was one of the challenges facing the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California, in 1972.
Steel for shipbuilding and other industries was in heavy demand during World War II, and no integrated mills (those capable of all phases of steel production, from making iron through rolling shapes) existed on the West Coast.
Henry J. Kaiser was a man of action, so he built a state-of-the-art plant in then-rural Fontana, 55 miles inland from Los Angeles. It fired up its first blast furnace, “Bess No. 1” (named after Kaiser’s wife), on December 30, 1942, and boasted numerous technologies to reduce air and water pollution.
Additional steps were taken over the years to be a model facility, but the plant struggled to adopt increasingly stringent environmental safeguards as the surrounding community developed.
The first national “Earth Day” in 1970 was an indicator of increased national environmental consciousness, and community relations with the steel mill grew tense.
In February 1972 the United Steelworkers of America Local No. 2869 started a 43-day strike that shut down the sprawling facility. Implementing Henry J. Kaiser’s famous proclamation that “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes,” management saw the situation as a way to help dispel one of their most persistent criticisms – Kaiser Steel’s perceived role as the primary source of local air pollution. They embarked on a project to document Fontana’s skies when the “variable” of an operating steel mill was absent.
Here is the explanatory text from the 32-page booklet, Aerial Photographs During the Strike, published by Kaiser Steel immediately following the work stoppage:
And The Smog Stayed On
Even though virtually all authorities agree that less than 15 percent of photochemical smog comes from stationary sources, it is often contended that the elimination of industrial plants in San Bernardino County would make a dramatic reduction in the area’s air pollution problem. Kaiser Steel was recently placed in the position where the results of such an action could be observed.
A strike idled the Fontana Plant beginning February 1, 1972. It brought to a halt all production from the blast furnaces, open hearths, oxygen furnaces, and rolling mills.
During the first three weeks of the strike, aerial photographs were taken to record atmospheric conditions in the vicinity of the Fontana Plant. Of course, this is the clearest time of the year and there were many days, and particularly mornings, of good visibility and little or no photochemical smog. On the other hand, most of the days there was a very visible bank of photochemical smog in the area, much of which appeared to be brought by afternoon winds from the west.
This booklet is a collection of pictures taken during the first three weeks of the strike. While it is not possible to make exact comparisons for any given day, it is evident that even with the steel mill shut down, the area suffered some of its worst smog for this time of year.
California author Mike Davis, in his critical book City of Quartz, noted Kaiser Steel’s strike-based environmental documentation in the chapter “Fontana: Junkyard of Dreams” and made these observations:
Many ex-steelworkers still vehemently believe that the Kaiser pollution scare was purposely manufactured by developers who regarded the plant—smog-spewing or not—as a huge negative externality to residential construction in the Cucamonga-Fontana area.
As San Bernardino County’s West End fell under the “urban shadow” of Los Angeles and Orange County, developable property values came into increasing conflict with the paycheck role of the mill as leading local employer.
Inevitably the pollution debate reflected these divergent material interests.
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Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources published a story in 2010 on the Kaiser Darrin sports car (“Kaiser-built 1954 sports car delights today’s collectors“), but history never sleeps, and we’ve recently digitized some slides buried in our archive of the designer in the process of creating the prototype.
Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin (1897-1982) was a World War I aviator, inventor, and automobile designer. After WWII, when Henry J. Kaiser entered the automobile industry, Darrin was brought in as a freelance consultant and he worked on several designs. But Kaiser-Frazer’s last automobile gasp was to be a sleek convertible sports car with a fiberglass body and sliding doors – designed by Dutch Darrin.
The predecessor to that vehicle was called the Darrin Motor Car, featured in the October, 1946 issue of Popular Science: “For 20 years crack designer Howard Darrin engineered cars for the big manufacturers – and dreamed of producing his own. Now the dream has come true in a new superlight car of novel design, with a plastic body and hydraulically powered labor-saving gadgets.” That car never happened, but the seed had been planted and it blossomed soon afterwards.
In 1950 the Kaiser-Frazer automobile company asked Darrin in to improve the styling of the “Henry J” budget car. The meagre production budget afforded little latitude, so Darrin’s improvements were minor, but he convinced Henry J. Kaiser to let him create a more attractive car on the Henry J chassis. At first Henry Kaiser didn’t like Darrin’s long, sculpted convertible, but his new wife Alyce (“Ale”) loved it. The project got the green light.
These photographs show Darrin sculpting the clay on a full-size mockup, most likely in his workshop in Santa Monica, California. For more on Darrin’s long design history, see this article by automotive journalist Mark Theobald.
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by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
Kaiser Permanente is currently committed to promoting the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. Kaiser Permanente offers smoke-free campuses to promote a healthy environment, and also offers online resources to the public, including tobacco cessation programs.
But Kaiser Permanente has also been advocating smoking cessation for a long time. This article addressed teen smoking in a Fall, 1964 in the member magazine Planning for Health.
“I see a new approach to smoking among students these days,” says Solomon Cohen, M.D., of the Permanente Medical Group’s Teen-Age Clinic in San Francisco.
“Fewer of the youngest group are starting the habit. By the time they’re in high school they’ve usually caught on to the fact that success in school and sports is greater among the non-smokers.
“Also, adolescents take the example of adults more seriously than we realize, or than they care to admit usually. Statistics show that where parents, even one parent, are not smokers, fewer of their teenagers smoke.”
This generation may produce a good many more independent-minded young people who will answer the billion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at “hooking” them with a cool “No, thanks.”
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By Lincoln Cushing
The Caldecott Tunnel channels State Highway 24, a major highway that wends its way east from San Francisco Bay through the East Bay hills. A much-anticipated fourth bore opened this month, and traffic officials predict legendary back-ups at the entrance to the old tunnels will no longer plague motorists.
Despite Henry J. Kaiser’s fame as a major 20th Century industrialist, few today know that his construction firm was part of the consortium that helped build the original two tunnel bores.
In 1934, during the depths of the Great Depression, the Six Companies won a bid to build what was to be called the Broadway Low Level Tunnel (it would later be named for Alameda County Supervisor Thomas E. Caldecott).
The “Six” that were just finishing up Hoover Dam included Bay Area construction powerhouses Henry J. Kaiser Company and the Bechtel Corporation, plus four firms from Utah, Oregon, and Idaho.
Funding came from a variety of sources, including the Public Works Administration (not to be confused with the Works Progress Administration), a bond issued by California Highway District 13, and the State of California.
Boring of the tunnels began on September 1, 1934. But the geology of the Berkeley Hills is complex, and the engineering studies drastically failed to anticipate the difficulty of the project. As a report published by the Six Companies described:
“. . . nature’s furtive facts were lurking within the hills to attack the theories of geologists, engineers and builder alike.” [i]
The obstacles included fractured shale, three distinct geological formations, earthquake faults, and unexpected water drainage. The report further noted:
“When new water sources were uncovered – usually from fifty to seventy-five feet apart – they were difficult to control, because water came in gushes apparently under pressure, and would run as much as five hundred or six hundred gallons per minute in each bore.”
Engineering nightmare costs lives, pushes deadlines
All resulted in an engineering nightmare that increased costs, pushed deadlines, and worse. Two cave-ins took the lives of three workers.
As costs skyrocketed, the Six Companies tried to raise more money; when that failed, and litigation erupted, The Six Companies were severely fined and pulled out of the job, even though it was nearly finished.
But Henry J. Kaiser hated failure and felt his professional reputation was at stake. He offered the highway district his cooperation in maintaining the present work as well as assisting them in finding a suitable contractor to finish the project – which was no easy task.
On September 11, 1936, bids for completing the tunnel were put out and no one applied. The next month, with Kaiser’s assistance, the contract was broken into eight units, and the work was finished by Pollock & Clifford (excavation and concrete), Clifford (grouting), Duprey (ceilings and roadway), Alta Electric (ventilation and carbon monoxide detectors), Morre (highway), and Berkeley Steel (steel structures).
The tunnels opened to traffic on December 12, 1937, and Henry J. Kaiser went on to tackle the Grand Coulee Dam, the wartime shipyards, and the health plan now known as Kaiser Permanente.
By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
I want to say goodbye to a gracious and remarkable woman who helped carry the Henry J. Kaiser legacy forward into the 21st Century. Barbara Kaiser, the widow of Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., passed away in late September.
Barbara “Bobbie” Kaiser was married to Henry J. Kaiser’s second son, Henry, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1944 and died in 1961 at age 44 despite his father’s best efforts to find a cure.
Bobbie, as she liked to be called by everyone, survived her husband by more than 50 years.
In those years, she continued the Kaiser involvement in community affairs, helped to found a thriving Episcopal congregation in Oakland, Calif., and supported the celebration of Henry J. Kaiser’s epic history of shipbuilding during World War II in Richmond, Calif.
She also branched out on her own as an apprentice architect studying in the 1970s at the famed Frank Lloyd Wright school at Taliesin West, Arizona.
Getting to know Bobbie
For a few months in 2010, my life intersected with Bobbie’s, and I shall always remember her as the woman who – accustomed to a chauffeur-driven limousine – didn’t mind riding in my VW Beetle, invited me for lunch and explained to me how Cobb Salad came about.
She knew about Cobb Salad’s legendary origin at the famous Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles because she was there, along with others who moved in Hollywood circles.
Barbara Preininger was working as a stewardess and assistant to entertainer Dennis Day when she met Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. They married in 1947. At the time, Henry was managing the Kaiser-Frazer division of the Kaiser Motors Corporation.
The couple lived for a time in one of the Kaiser Community Homes in Panorama City. In 1951, they moved to Oakland and Henry was responsible for the Kaiser Companies public relations program. In 1952 they had a son, Henry J. Kaiser, III, who has become a musician and filmmaker.
I met Bobbie through Kaiser Permanente Heritage Director Bryan Culp who knew her from the St. John’s Episcopal congregation. He suggested I contact her about the upcoming Home Front festival in Richmond to invite her to come along as our guest. She was delighted.
As it turned out, Bobbie and I were neighbors, so I just had to swing by to pick her up from the senior citizens building where she lived. When I got there, the doorman escorted her out to the car. She was dressed fabulously.
In a lovely, rich red wrap, black pants and top with beaded fringe about the bottoms and stylish shoes. She was sporting a gorgeous straw hat – a trademark for Bobbie – and her face was beaming from underneath it.
At the festival, the National Park Service rangers greeted her with reverence and invited her to sit in “Rosie’s Corner,” an area approximating a 1940s parlor, for photographs. Later she browsed the festival booths on her own, seeming to read every word on historical displays. She took every opportunity to speak to festival-goers and staffers throughout the day.
Relishing the fruit of her labor
A few weeks later, the Heritage team, led by former director Tom Debley, and Elizabeth Sandel, MD, took Bobbie on a tour of the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, Calif. Sandel was chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the center, which moved in 2010 to a new, totally updated building.
Bobbie’s visit to the rehab center could not have been more relevant. She played a significant role in the development of the early techniques used at the first center, which was established in 1946 to treat her husband and others who had neuromuscular diseases.
With an opportunity to speak with the rehab staff, Bobbie described the regimen she used every day to help her husband get through the day. “Every morning, we would fill the bathtub with ice and Henry would get in . . . it really helped,” she recalled. “If we were traveling we’d ask the hotel to bring us buckets of ice.”
Again, Bobbie illustrated her keen curiosity by viewing up close many of the art pieces in the center. She talked to patients and told them the story of her husband and her familiarity with rehab therapies.
She had a chance to see the two gyms for rehab patients and the outdoor patio with steps for patients to practice their mobility skills. She posed with the 1953 Kaiser Manhattan automobile that sits on the grounds and is used to teach patients to transfer from wheelchair to car.
Dr. Sandel confirms that the icing method is still used in the rehab center. A trained oral historian, Dr. Sandel, now retired, planned to interview Bobbie but never had the opportunity due to Bobbie’s recent illness.
The last time I saw Bobbie it was pouring rain. She invited me to visit her home for an interview. I went with her to the hairdresser’s shop in her building and then to the dining room for lunch. She was kind and non-demanding of all the people we encountered and before I left, she realized the gift shop had closed before she could get a fellow resident a birthday gift. “Oh, I guess I’ll just walk over to (the market),” she said frowning at the rain.
Every day as I walk by Bobbie’s long-time residence I think of her – her wondrous hats, her smiles, her curiosity – and I wish I’d met her sooner.
On the auspicious date of November 12, 2013 (10/12/13 for those into numerology) esteemed Kaiser Permanente physician and pioneer of medical informatics turned 100 years old. This event was celebrated at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco with The Collen Symposium: Looking Back to Look Forward. This one-day gathering hosted by the KP Division of Research drew scores of health care professionals, academics, researchers, and administrators to honor Dr. Collen’s contribution to the field.
Congratulations, Dr. Collen for your outstanding work.
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By Bryan Culp, Director
Morris F. Collen, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s own information technology pioneer, turns 100 on Tuesday. To celebrate his lifetime achievements, the American College of Medical Informatics and The Permanente Medical Group are honoring Collen with a party in San Francisco.
It’s fitting that Tuesday’s party should take place in San Francisco, which is also where the First Congress of the American Medical Informatics Association convened in 1982. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals was a sponsor then and Collen was an organizer and presenter.
On Tuesday, Collen will take a break from his usual routine to bask in the adulation of his friends and colleagues, some travelling from the Mid-West and East Coast. He has kept a rigorous writing schedule in his 100th year to prepare the second edition of his highly acclaimed, The History of Medical Informatics in the United States.
Morris Collen was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on November 12, 1913. He likes to show people his driver’s license and point to the date of his birth. “I feel that I was born with an interest in data. My birthdate is a series of three consecutive, two-digit numbers: 11-12-13.”
He attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1935; in 1938 he earned his MD “with distinction” from the School of Medicine. A residency in internal medicine at USC/Los Angeles County General Hospital brought him to California in 1939 and to his career-long association with Sidney Garfield, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician.
Early career in Kaiser Richmond Shipyards
Collen, a physician in the Richmond Shipyards, became a nationally recognized authority on the treatment of pneumonia during World War II. His gift for research showed early in his published studies in The Permanente Foundation Medical Bulletin of which he was long-time editor. After two decades as an internist with Kaiser Permanente, his career took a turn into early medical information technology.
Garfield asked him to study how to use computers to improve care. In 1961, Collen was named founding director of Kaiser Permanente’s Medical Methods Research – now the Division of Research – known today for research in drug safety, risk-factor epidemiology, and genetics.
Collen and his team set to work to automate the 10-year-old multiphasic health screening exam to develop a prototype electronic health record. Note that it was a strange idea, 50 years ago, that data stored on a drive in bits and pieces could yield comprehensive patient histories and inform the treatment of patients.
Preventive screening gains national attention
The multiphasic health checkup was composed of a battery of tests and procedures that screened for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses. Multiphasic testing allowed physicians to screen for chronic disease and to discover and treat disease in patients who had not yet shown symptoms.
This method helped to address the postwar physician shortage because nurses and other team members could conduct testing and the physicians had more time to care for the ill. The multiphasic was widely accepted in public health medicine for its preventive aspect and for the opportunity to educate patients about healthy living.
In a U.S. Senate hearing in 1966, “The Detection and Prevention of Chronic Disease Utilizing Multiphasic Health Screening Techniques,” Collen’s automated multiphasic program was described as the most advanced in the country. When a senator asked what made it stand out from the others, Collen replied:
“There are many programs existing at the present time that utilize the various phases of multiphasic screening,” he told the senators. “I think what we have done is put together the largest coordinated program that functions online with a computer. That is our contribution.”
Drs. Donald A. B. Lindberg and Marion Ball recently described Collen’s pioneering research in an editorial in Methods of Information in Medicine, “Morris F. Collen at 100: A Tribute to ‘The Father of Medical Informatics.’” They said Collen “built the system that automated the patient checkup, the physical exam, patient history and lab results. “An early computer-based patient record and database followed. From this computerized database, large-scale population research was born. Thus, medical informatics got its start.”
Collen’s early foray into electronic collection and storage of patient data was Kaiser Permanente’s first step on the road to becoming a leader in health records technology. Today, 4 million Kaiser Permanente members enjoy easy and secure access to their doctor and their personal health data.
By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
“Movember” is an official global charity that was created to have an impact on men’s health. Its whimsical approach gets men to line up financial commitments from friends, family, and co-workers and then grow their facial hair during the month of November.
The funds raised support men’s health programs that combat prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges. These programs, directed by the Movember Foundation, are focused on awareness and education, living with and beyond cancer, staying mentally healthy, living with and beyond mental illness, and research to achieve a lasting impact on the face of men’s health.
But as this article from Bos’n’s Whistle, the Kaiser Shipyards magazine from November 26, 1942 shows, getting furry for a good cause has deep roots. To spur the healthy competition for production and raise money for war bonds, the crews at the Swan Island Shipyards announced a ban on shaving until they finished their tanker ships.
“When No. 2 tanker is launched, judges will select the five winners, with war bond prizes as follows: $100 for the best beard, $50 for the second best, $25 for the third best, $50 for the most artistic beard, $25 for the most anemic beard. The rest of the money previously collected through kangaroo court fines will be turned over to a local war charity.”
Shipyard manager Edgar Kaiser sported a fake beard, but it didn’t save him from fines totalling $37.10. His heavy fine included “$10 for filing a motion in bad faith, 10 cents for contempt of court, $20 for failure to grow a beard, and $7 court costs.”
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