Archive for December, 2013

Hope in Brazil: Reaching across cultural lines

posted on December 28, 2013

By Lori Shearn, Heritage writer

Second in a series

Editors note: Kaiser Permanente physician and educator Martin Shearn and his wife Lori traveled to Brazil in 1973 where Dr. Shearn served as chief of staff for the SS Hope hospital ship docked in Maceio, a poor coastal community in Northeast Brazil.

Martin Shearn, MD, center, with other Project Hope staffers in Brazil. Project Hope photo

Martin Shearn, MD, center, with other Project Hope staffers in Brazil. Project Hope photo

While in Washington, D.C., Martin finished the orientation at Project Hope and we were soon dispatched by plane to Northeast Brazil.

In the meantime, the SS Hope was in Baltimore, preparing to sail on its planned two-week journey to Maceio.

Our plane trip from New York was long but pleasant enough. We weren’t able to sleep in our tourist-class seats, but it didn’t really matter because we were so excited.

By the time the meal was served, the movie was shown and the lights were dimmed, it was 2 o’clock in the morning. Soon a magnificent golden sunrise greeted us. We had lost two hours of time and the brilliant orange hues that crept up over the horizon were muted only by the dark, heavy clouds over the Amazon.

We were in Brazil!

Landing in Rio was fairly unspectacular, except that we arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule and were introduced to the Brazilian relaxed sense of time. Because the flight was early, there was no space to park the giant jet. We waited a half hour or more. Finally a small bus transferred us to the terminal.

Suddenly everyone spoke Portuguese, of course, and we were immediately engulfed in oppressive heat.  No air-conditioning.   What a strange feeling to be surrounded by officials who do not speak your language, by strange signs and signals and by rules you don’t understand.

Long lines snaked us from one official to another.  We had only an hour to clear customs and immigration to make our connecting flight to Salvador. With all the confusion and red tape, we thought we might be stuck in Rio overnight. (Would that be so bad? we wondered.)

Martin Shearn, MD, The Permanente Medical Group.  director of education, circa 1973. Lori Shearn photo

Martin Shearn, MD, The Permanente Medical Group. director of education, circa 1973. Lori Shearn photo

Marty then attempted a new tack. Courageously, with passports in hand, he tried his best Portuguese on an official and got him to understand our Hope mission. We felt triumphant and made our connecting flight to Salvador with 10 minutes to spare, soaking wet with perspiration, tired but happy.

In Salvador, the police could be seen guarding the tiny airfield of this military installation. The sand dunes looked spectacularly like snow, but the temperature belied that possibility. We were not permitted to walk anywhere except to the vehicle that took us to a terminal 15 minutes away.

Eerie setting. We no longer saw jets, only small planes.

People were friendly, good-looking and dressed sparsely for the hot climate. As Americans, we felt welcome and not outcasts. We made our first friend; Petronia saw our attempts and offered to help us. He spoke a few words of English, but was also delighted by our Portuguese.

Petronia was from Maceio and told us a little bit about our new home. He reassured us about the safety record of the small plane we were to board. He said he constantly flies this route to and from Rio.

Our plane made two more stops before arriving at Maceio. The runways were short strips of pavement and lots of rocky dirt. The flight’s arrival at each destination was a weekly event and the plane was greeted by many children, dogs and goats.

As we approached Maceio, we could finally see the mountains and lagoons and the little hills that looked like half oranges, with green trees all around. We were met by a crowd of well-wishers, numerous “Hopies” (people associated with Project Hope) and many local doctors and other dignitaries.

They were pleased to see us, to meet us and by then Portuguese came a little easier. How wise it had been to study it before we came.

We were exhausted from our long journey and sleep deprivation, but the exhilaration of the arrival ceremony was infectious. We were taken to the home of our host for the night. We were offered refreshments of all sorts, but then we had to give in to nature’s demands and asked to be excused to sleep.

The next day we saw the beauty of Maceio’s beach, the hospitality of our fellow staff members, and we began to plan for our new life. We were told about a beach house to rent, owned by one of the doctors in town as a second home. We were enchanted and accepted it.

We were soon introduced to many who wanted to work for us (in our home), and I began to interview. Martin was surrounded by the former chief of staff, who helped to orient him, and other personnel who had already begun preparations for the project’s operations.

Next time: Getting ready for the arrival of the SS Hope in Maceio.

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Twice told tales 2013

posted on December 27, 2013
The Honeybee Trio, an Andrews-Sisters-style singing act, bring three Richmond, Calif., "Rosie's Girls" on stage to perform WWII-era favorite "Six Jerks in a Jeep." KP Heritage photo.
The Honeybee Trio, an Andrews-Sisters-style singing act, and three “Rosie’s Girls” perform at the Rosie the Riveter Trust dinner in April. KP Heritage photo.

by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Healthy living benefits, women’s progress, and nursing history among past year’s blog subjects

In 2013, the quest to bring to light the best episodes in Kaiser Permanente’s history led us to a wide range of topics.

Our blog subjects included World War II Home Front stories, a little known saga about pioneering nurse practitioners in Sacramento, and the highlights of the 60-year career of Kaiser Permanente researcher/physician Morris Collen, MD, who turned 100 this fall.

We covered a special event featuring actor Geena Davis that showcased women, including a few Kaiser Permanente leaders, who overcame gender and ethnic discrimination to achieve success.

We got to unearth little known facts about Henry J. Kaiser’s part in the construction of the San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge, and we found buried video assets in our archive to tell the Bay Bridge story in film for the first time.

We were also able to produce a video clip capturing scenes of the medical staff who worked with Sidney Garfield, MD, caring for workers at the Grand Coulee Dam site in Washington State in the 1930s.

Healthy lifestyle promotion has deep roots

In our collaboration with the National Park Service, we enjoyed an opportunity to revisit the surprising benefits of food rationing during World War II. We also carried stories of the Rosie the Riveter Trust and its funding of community projects in Richmond, Calif., including “Rosie’s Girls”, an initiative to motivate girls from low-income families in their career choices.

Also, in Richmond, we participated in the 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr., volunteer day with Urban Tilth, a growing community garden project that harvests a crop of fresh fruits and vegetables for local consumption. Healthy lifestyles also got a push with a blog about the health benefits of walking.

Mining for history nuggets

Bob Sallis, MD, a champion of KP's "Every Body Walk!" campaign, helped found the Southern California Permanente Medical Group's Sports Medicine residency program in 1990.

Bob Sallis, MD, a champion of KP’s “Every Body Walk!” campaign, helped found the Southern California Permanente Medical Group’s Sports Medicine residency program in 1990.

For Lincoln Cushing, a highlight of the year was the opportunity to interview Jim Gersbach, Senior Hospital Communication Consultant for the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region.

Gersbach, who was with Kaiser Permanente for 27 years, lived through much of our history and has an amazing understanding of the organization.

The Gersbach interview will find its way into Kaiser Permanente’s collection of its leaders’ oral histories, many developed by UC Berkeley Regional Oral History Office. Here’s a taste of the conversation with Gersbach:

“Having worked (at Kaiser Permanente) for a quarter century, I strangely enough find that I have personal memories about what have now become historical periods of time.

“We’ve been doing this for 20, 30, 40 years, even back in the 1940s.  (Looking back on our history), it’s really about asking, “What are (Kaiser Permanente’s) consistent values that don’t change over time?”

Collaborating to tell our story

Over the past year, we’ve collaborated with our partners at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park to help tell the Kaiser Permanente origins story in the permanent museum displays to be unveiled in the spring. In 2014, we will carry stories in our blog about news and events at the budding park.

Sidney Garfield, MD, Permanente founding physician, walking in Mojave Desert near site of Contractors General Hospital, 1980

Sidney Garfield, MD, Permanente founding physician, walking in the Mojave Desert near the site of Contractors General Hospital, 1980

We also look forward to sharing the stories about the opening of the Oakland Medical Center’s historical displays within the state-of-the-art hospital to open in 2014.

We’ve worked with the medical center staff to congregate assets for dynamic displays to tell the multifaceted 75-year history of Kaiser Permanente, including a section on the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing.

Heritage staff has supplied historical photos and factual material for other publications, including the Kaiser Permanente Procurement and Supply Department’s print newsletter, The Source, which won a national award.

We also contributed to materials developed by the Kaiser Permanente Latino Association and the Labor Management Partnership, which carried several short articles about labor history in the magazine Hank.

Other assets surfacing this year in Kaiser Permanente archives allowed the detailing of Henry J. Kaiser’s role in construction of the Caldecott Tunnel and his pioneering in broadcasting during the 1960s.

We’ve also found material that allowed us to tell tales of Kaiser’s strong personal interest in speedboat racing, and to offer glimpses into his exploits in the manufacture of cars, such as the racing Henry J and the Darrin sports car that caused a stir in the 1950s.



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Jonathon Nix’s 1980s holiday posters still delight

posted on December 24, 2013

Click here to see original 2011 post.

Click on any image to see a slideshow.
To close the slideshow and return to the blog, click on “X” in upper left of slideshow page.

Hope in Brazil: Lori Shearn’s memoir of South America

posted on December 16, 2013
SS Hope
The SS Hope, previously a U.S. Navy hospital ship, sailed as a roving medical oasis from 1958 to 1973. Kaiser Permanente physician Martin Shearn, his wife Lori, and their three children spent time on the ship in Brazil on its last voyage.

Forty years ago, in 1973, Permanente physician Martin Shearn took on a year-long assignment with the humanitarian organization Project Hope. As chief of staff on the SS Hope, Dr. Shearn’s mission was to bring knowledge of modern medical care to a poor coastal town in Northeast Brazil.

Like Permanente physicians who render crisis care in storm-ravaged places like the Philippines and Haiti today, Dr. Shearn and his wife, Lori, embarked on the adventure with a dual goal: to help others and to enrich their own lives by experiencing the culture of a South American country.

Lori Shearn, an active participant in the mission, took copious notes throughout the Shearns’ year in Brazil. In recent years, she has turned those notes into a memoir that reveals the intricacies of adapting to a strange culture and how at times attempts to bridge differences can result in a comedy of errors.

The Shearns’ adventures offered cultural lessons in time warps, creepy and ubiquitous creatures, South American pomp and circumstance, the joys and dangers of Carnaval, the rigors of providing medical care to those never treated before and the thrill of alligator hunting in the Amazon.


Lori Shearn took plenty of notes on the Shearn family trip to Brazil in 1973.
Lori Shearn took plenty of notes on the Shearn family mission to northeast Brazil in 1973.

By Lori Shearn, Heritage writer

It’s hard to believe, but it all began because Spanish seemed like the extension course that most conveniently fit into our schedule that fall in 1970.

Oh, of course we knew that they speak Portuguese in Brazil, but it all began with Spanish.

Spanish class was going rather well, so we decided that we should be going someplace where the language is spoken. A Mexican vacation, perhaps, or why not a medical service somewhere in South America?

Martin, my husband, was an internist, a physician who has educated a great many young doctors in a group practice in California, and he was also affiliated with the university where he taught. Inquiries around the medical school produced a slew of opportunities for a Spanish-speaking doctor who wanted to participate in a medical mission to South America. We considered them all.

Then we heard about Project Hope. This is a medical organization that disseminates not only medical treatment, but more importantly, medical know-how. It was made to order for us, and further investigation disclosed that the next mission would be to South America, Venezuela to be exact, and that they were recruiting physicians for a two-month stint and that wives were welcome. We applied.

Project Hope makes a fascinating offer

Pretty soon a most surprising reply arrived: “With your qualifications, would you be interested in the position of director of medical education for this voyage?” What a fascinating offer. Medical education was the subject Martin knew best and to be able to practice it in a cross-cultural setting speaking Spanish was perfect.

Our three children were all in college, and for Martin and me, a leave away from the humdrum world of our suburbia was an attractive prospect. A slight change was mentioned at this point. Instead of two months, in this more complex position, we would need to stay for the full year.

The personal conflict of leaving our children alone for a whole year had to be overcome. I assured them that they could visit us (I got their tickets in advance) as long as they made arrangements with their schools for a leave, and I told them that they would have to have a job when they got there.

The next phone call from the Hope office requested Dr. Shearn to come to Washington to plan next year’s activities. “Oh, and by the way, the ship will not be going to Venezuela, but instead, to Brazil,” they told him.

Can we learn Portuguese in time?

What to do? Our Spanish-speaking adventure was to end up in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. Should we still go? Our emotional commitment had been made, so we felt the answer would have to be yes.

But how do you switch from intermediate Spanish to beginning Portuguese in three months? There were no Portuguese classes in our area. The first experience we had listening to a tape demonstrated the complicated pronunciation, which sounded like a combination of Czech and Romanian. Another totally new language seemed like too much to handle.

With a stroke of good luck, a teacher from Rio just happened to walk into Martin’s office as a patient. She offered to help us delve into the new mysteries of the Portuguese language. Slowly we progressed. She invited all her Brazilian friends to our house often and nobody was allowed to speak English.

Our new friends were all so impressed and grateful that we were going to Brazil to help people in the underdeveloped area of the Northeast that they wanted to help us learn the language.

Another bombshell challenge

In the next phone conversation with the Hope office, a new development was introduced almost immediately. Martin was apprised that there was no chief of staff since the man so designated previously had been reassigned. Would Martin take the position in addition to that of director of education?

Upon meeting the rest of the permanent staff members in the Washington orientation, Martin and I had a lengthy consultation and then decided that he had best accept this challenge too.

The ship was to sail for South America in two weeks with the full contingent of nursing, medical and support staff. Under the existing circumstances, Martin hesitated but felt he had to accept the broader role of chief of staff, however daunting. He vowed to make the year’s project a success, and he never regretted his decision.

Next time: Brazilians stage warm reception for the physician’s family.


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Fontana’s Sinister Garden

posted on December 11, 2013

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Sinister Garden1

Dr. Guy Hartman, pediatrician, and Franklin Boeckman, hospital administrator, take a look at the expanded Sinister Garden at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, 1976.

In 1974 physicians at Kaiser Permanente Fontana (Calif.) Medical Center planted a most unusual garden at the center’s entrance. Behind a fence and locked gate they displayed 17 common poisonous plants found in homes and gardens, and called the collection the Sinister Garden – complete with a warning skull.

Pediatrician Guy Hartman, MD, (1922-2008) was concerned about the high number of local cases – as many as 300 in 1973 – that resulted from ingesting poisonous vegetation. “Children who are 4 years of age are our most frequent patients,” he told reporters. “This is the age of curiosity for these youngsters who are learning about their world by touching, feeling, and tasting just about everything.”

Dr. Hartman became interested in poisonous plants as a Boy Scout master in Southern California. “While working on a Scout project, we discovered that many common ornamental house and garden plants contain enough poison that, if accidentally eaten, could kill an entire family.” [i]

His garden was actively used for teaching. All plants were labeled and keyed to an exhibit sign explaining what the plants were named, which parts were poisonous, and what symptoms would occur if the plants were eaten. Busloads of children were brought to the garden to hear his warnings about castor beans, oleander, and wild mushrooms, to name a few.  In 1976 the positive response led to the garden more than doubling in size, to 49 plants.

Around that time the pediatrics department produced a short video to broadcast the message, using a hand puppet named Amigo to charm the children. They also published a seven-page booklet, Welcome to the Sinister Garden.

In 1986 Kaiser Permanente’s Rockwood Clinic in Gresham, Oregon, installed its own garden, also as a response to local children’s poisonings. And in 1988, the physician-in-charge Thomas Hartman, MD, (no relation) planted a sinister garden at the old Bellflower (now Downey) service area at the Kaiser Permanente Imperial Medical Offices.

The garden in Fontana continues to be maintained and modernized, with landscape architecture students from nearby Cal Poly Pomona using it for design projects.


Short link to this story

[i] “Enlarged Sinister Garden Flourishes,” Kaiser Permanente Insight (Southern California), Fall 1976

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Dr. Howard B. Liebgold, MD – 1932-2013

posted on December 10, 2013

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente, and the practice of phobic medicine, lost a great leader this summer when Howard Barry Liebgold, MD, passed away at age 81.

Dr. Howard Liebgold, MD, Planning for Health newsletter, Spring 1977Dr. Liebgold, who died August 15, got his undergraduate education at the University of California, Los Angeles and served his residency at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center (1956-1958) until earning his medical degree. He joined the Vallejo Kaiser Permanente Rehabilitation Center permanent staff as a rehabilitation physician in 1962.

During his tenure he served in many key capacities, including the chief of Kaiser Federation Rehabilitation Center, director of medical education at Vallejo, and chief of the chronic pain and acupuncture clinics.

Affectionately known as “Dr. Fear,” Dr. Liebgold was best known for 25 years of teaching classes and workshops about easing the painful restriction of phobic symptoms. Liebgold himself was severely phobic for more than three decades, but eventually developed a method of slow desensitization that worked. He called the resulting program Phobease, and wrote several books on the subject, including Curing Anxiety, Phobias, Shyness and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (self-published, 1995). He helped to cure more than 10,000 people of their severe anxieties and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.


Dr. Liebgold, former Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, and Margaret “Maggie” Knott at the Kaiser Permanente Rehabilitation Center (Vallejo), January 25, 1975

Dr. Liebgold also was an early proponent of acupuncture. In 1975 he received national media coverage for helping former Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg recover from an injured arm. Goldberg hailed the Vallejo center as “Most outstanding in the country.” Dr. Liebgold treated a thousand patients a year in addition to his inpatient rehabilitation work, and believed that acupuncture filled a very real need.

“I never embraced the Chinese philosophy. I was a Western physician. What I embraced was the Canadian belief, what they called the dry-needling technique, that this was purely a biomedical phenomenon. What acupuncture does is to produce micro-injuries and the healing of the micro-injuries also heals anything in the area.”[i]

Dr. Liebgold also embraced modern technology in the service of medical care. In 1964, he participated in a series of medical radio conferences that linked the University of California Medical Center with groups of practicing physicians from the Oregon border south to Bakersfield. The program, which was broadcast twice weekly, was conducted in a question-and-answer forum with participation from medical staff representing 70 California hospitals. According to Dr. Liebgold, this program provided the opportunity for small hospitals to have direct contact with the medical school and eminent specialists in various fields of medicine.

Dr. Liebgold represented the inquisitive mind and personal bravery that makes a doctor a true healer. He will be missed.

Short link to this article

[i] Unpublished interview by Steve Gilford, 1999 (TPMG P2853)

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Kaiser Permanente Maternity, 1948

posted on December 4, 2013

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Planning for Health newsletter 1948-01Kaiser Permanente’s Total Health Radio has just released a compelling podcast interview, “The Truth About Pregnancy.” The media have changed over the years, but Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to an informed membership has never wavered, even when invoking a large waterborne bird was part of the maternity messaging. This article, “How Permanente Assists Mr. Stork” (storks being traditional fertility symbols, associated with springtime and birth) is from the January 1948 issue of the newsletter Planning for Health.

Eight doctors and 32 nurses form the staff of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Permanente Hospital and allied centers. The doctors are James Basye, Jack Hallatt, James Harkins, Robert W. King, John O’Hare, James Sategna (at Vallejo), and Theodore S. Stashak. In the Obstetrics division, women are cared for in pregnancy and childbirth, while the Gynecology division is devoted to treatment of women’s diseases with the exception of pre-natal cases.

Planning for Health newsletter 1948-01As a rule, 1600 patients are treated each month in the combined department, and of this number one-fourth are pre-natal cases. 115 to 120 babies are brought into the world at Permanente each month. All deliveries and labors require individual management. Relief from pain is the objective in all cases, with the doctor choosing the method safest for child and mother. The majority of deliveries are conducted under nerve block anesthesia. Percentage of abnormal deliveries is quite small and is within the range of national medical experience during the last ten years. Cesarian sections are performed only when needed for sound obstetrical reasons.”

Shortlink to this article

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