Dr. Morris Collen passed away Saturday night at the age of 100; the official Kaiser Permanente obituary is posted here.
Dr. Collen – Morrie, to us – was a treasure in Kaiser Permanente’s mission-driven history. He was our last living link to the origins of our health plan, from the days before it even opened to the public in 1945.
Dr. Sidney Garfield recruited Morrie to be chief of medicine for the industrial health care program he was directing for workers in the Kaiser Richmond (Calif.) shipyards in July 1942. It was a trial by fire. Dr. Collen recalled: “It was all trauma. At those shipyards, they all had accidents. People were getting run over by trucks. They were falling off the ships. Everybody we saw had injuries.”
Dr. Collen just rolled up his sleeves and began to save lives. He saved lives by pioneering the treatment of pneumonia with penicillin, he saved lives by applying efficient medical diagnostic processes to hard-working longshoremen, he saved lives by using then-new mainframe computers to automate the analysis of those “multiphasic examinations.”
The man created entire departments within Kaiser Permanente and pioneered whole fields of medicine. Yet he was always accessible when we had a visiting delegation who wanted to meet him. He’d hold court, nursing a beer and telling long stories about being Henry J. Kaiser’s personal physician or running a hospital during the tough years the American Medical Association shunned us, enchanting a roomful of young physicians.
When Dr. Collen moved on from his position as physician-in-chief at KP San Francisco hospital, the doctors and staff put together a goodbye scrapbook for him. One item was a poem, “On Top of Old Geary” to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey.” It included the following lines:
With gentle persuasion
He bindeth our heart
And keeps our institution
From falling apart…
So listen dear Morrie
It’s you we sing of
With great admiration
And enduring love.
We couldn’t have said it better. He was dedicated, kind, and gracious. We will miss him very much.
An excellent resource for learning more about Dr. Collen’s history with Kaiser Permanente is his 1986 U.C. Berkeley Regional Oral History Office interview, as well as this interview on establishing the Division of Research and Collen’s own research into medical informatics.
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In late summer of 1942 president Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a “stealth” coast-to-coast tour of wartime America. The trip was tobe entirely off the record, with no press coverage until he’d returned to Washington, D.C. He departed by train September 17, and along the way he inspected tank factories in Michigan and ammunition plants in Minnesota.
On September 23, 1942, he visited the Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding shipyard in St. Johns, Oregon, near Portland. He proudly observed his daughter Anna (Mrs. John Boettiger) launch the Liberty-class S.S. Joseph N. Teal, a ship built in a remarkably short 10 days.
Pressed by the crowd of 14,000 eager workers, FDR said some words from his seat in the front of his convertible limousine. FDR’s last personal secretary, Grace Tully, captured his impromptu speech:
“I have been very much inspired by what I have seen and I wish that every man, woman and child in the United States could have been here today to see that launching and realize what it means in the winning of this war.
You know I am not supposed to be here today (laughter) (the crowd really went wild), so you are the possessors of a secret which even the newspapers of the United states don’t know, and I hope you will keep the secret because I am under military and naval orders, and like the ship that we have just seen go overboard, my motions and movements are supposed to be secret. I do not know whether they are or not.
You are doing a wonderful piece of work for your country and for our civilization, and with the help of God we are going to, see this thing through together.”
And we did.
Also see related stories “Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Kaiser Shipyards and Hospital” and
“Typist bounces with the Kaisers to New York, Northwest and back.”
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It’s not every day a first lady visits a Kaiser facility, but it happened in the middle of World War II – and she visited two.
Eleanor Roosevelt came to the Kaiser Company shipyard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington to personally launch the U.S.S. Casablanca, the first in a new class of small, versatile and inexpensive aircraft carriers.
The class was named for the Battle of Casablanca, fought November 8-12, 1942, where the U.S. Navy fought vessels under the control of Nazi-occupied France. The 50 ships the Kaiser yards produced comprised almost a third of the American carriers built during the war and were launched in less than two years.
The ship was known as the Alazon Bay while under construction and renamed the U.S.S. Casablanca two days before she slid down the ways on April 5, 1943. Five of the “baby flattops” were sunk in action during the war, and none survive today.
Health care, not warfare
But Eleanor wasn’t just there for the latest in military technology. She was more interested in the social programs affiliated with the massive shipbuilding projects, including child care, prepared meals for double-duty women, and health care.
Henry J. Kaiser listened to her and responded by introducing two controversial (at the time) programs for shipyard workers – model child care facilities near two of the shipyards and pre-cooked meals for working moms.
As for health care, Mr. Kaiser needed no convincing. Mrs. Roosevelt was given a grand tour of the state-of-the-art Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital built in September, 1942 for the shipyard workers.
Eleanor wrote a regular newspaper column, “My Day.” Her April 7, 1943, entry included this reflection on the Portland visit:
A little after 9:00 o’clock Monday morning we were met in Portland, Ore., by Mr. Henry J. Kaiser and his son Mr. Edgar Kaiser. A group of young Democrats presented me with a lovely bunch of red roses at the airport and then we were whisked off for a busy day.
Our first tour was in the Kaiser shipyard itself. It is certainly busy and businesslike. Everything seems to be in place and moving as quickly as possible along a regular line of production. I was particularly interested in the housing, so I was shown the dormitories and then the hospital, which is run on a species of health cooperative basis costing the employees seven cents a day. It looked to me very well-equipped and much used, but I was told there were few accidents in the shipyards owing to safety devices. The men come in for medical care and some surgery and their families are also cared for…
The ship went safely down the ways at the appointed time and was duly christened. It was interesting and impressive to see all the workers and their families gathered together for the occasion and I felt there was a spirit of good workmanship in this yard.
Mrs. Roosevelt was so intrigued with the new medical care program that she wrote Permanente’s founding physician, Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, who happened to be away at the time of her visit. “What is your plan for preventive care?” she asked.
“This is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country”
Dr. Sidney Garfield replied in a letter May 25, 1943, in which he took the opportunity to explain how aligned the first lady’s vision was with that of the Permanente Health Plan:
I regret very much not to have been present during your recent visit to Vancouver, Washington, and not to have had the opportunity of showing you through our medical facilities and hospitals in the Oakland-Richmond, California area.
Your expression of interest in preventive medicine is rather closely allied with our thoughts for medical care. Mr.Kaiser and I believe that preventive medicine is more important than the curative side. Our medical programs have always been developed with this fact in mind…
Because of the economy of such a medical plan the cost of medical care to the people is lowered. For the small amount charged at Coulee Dam we were able to provide the best of medical care and pay for the hospital facilities provided in a period of four years. When the cost ofthe facilities is paid for the charge per week to the people can be reduced, or the money used to provide more facilities, added equipment, and for research. Mr. Kaiser and all of us who have had a part in these programs feel that this is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country. It is self-sustaining and unites the medical profession, the employer and employee all in one common objective – “to keep the people well and to prevent their illness.”
Your interest in our organization is greatly appreciated. If we can be of further service in answering your questions please do not hesitate to call on us.
Sidney R. Garfield, M.D.
Medical Director, Kaiser Co., Inc., West Coast Shipyards
Years later, Eleanor Roosevelt’s light would shine on KP again.
In 2007 Kaiser Permanente was one of three recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from American Rights at Work, an advocacy and public policy organization responsible for promoting and defending workers’ rights since 2003. Kaiser Permanente received the award for “creating a management-union partnership based on mutual trust and respect.”
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Kaiser Permanente’s “Dispatches From” blog showcases the commitment of our physicians and staff to serving disadvantaged populations overseas, allowing caregivers to share their thoughts and observations with those back home. Basketball court building in Peru, surgery in Vietnam, gynecology in Kenya – all highlight the passion and compassion that defines the health care community.
But those roots run deep, and service abroad is not just a recent phenomenon. One example was Dr. James Flett, a KP Walnut Creek pediatrician. Imagine a time machine churning out this article from the staff newsletter KP Reporter from October, 1963 as a “Dispatches From”:
“India Borrows Doctor”
Dr. James Flett has gone to India.
For the next two years the former chief of pediatrics at Walnut Creek will be teaching men and women at the University of Bombay School of Medicine the arts of protecting children’s health.
For some years the World Health Organization has been helping medical schools to develop, or improve, special departments for pediatrics. As Visiting Professor of Social Pediatrics, Dr. Flett’s objective will be to train young physicians in a preventive approach to child health.
The social pediatrician does not, for instance, hospitalize a child for severe protein malnutrition and simply discharge him when he is in good condition. He inquires also into the home situation, teaches the parents something about nutrition, and attempts to prevent a return of the child’s disease.
Part of Dr. Flett’s Indian assignment will be to direct outpatient treatment centers, where medical students will have an opportunity to see patients with moderate illness, since those hospitalized are usually very extreme cases.
But, like all good stories, it didn’t end there.
Tragically, Dr. Flett was killed in a car accident in 1966, and his widow gave an endowment in his name to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics for the best research paper on Social and Preventive Pediatrics presented during their annual conference. The Indian medical community deeply appreciated Dr. Flett; in 2005 Dr. Bharat R. Agarwal, Hon. Secretary General of the IAP, noted that “[Dr. Flett] helped to upgrade pediatrics in Bombay by increasing collaboration between the three [major] medical colleges.”
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, Heritage writer
The World War II Home Front demanded huge sacrifices from civilians, and the Kaiser shipyards saw people from all walks of life working side by side. My uncle was an anthropologist at UC Berkeley who spent four years as a marine steamfitter in Richmond; he also wrote for the weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft – whose staff editorial assistant was none other than the well-known contemporary artist Emmy Lou Packard.
By the mid-1940s, California native Packard (1914-1998) was already a respected artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had received her Bachelor of Arts at UC Berkeley in 1936, where she had been arts editor of the Daily Californian and the campus literary magazine Occident. She was also the first female editor of the Pelican, the humor magazine. Packard later studied sculpture and fresco painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She had befriended renowned Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and after her first husband Burton Cairns’ tragic death in 1939 Packard went to Mexico where she lived and worked with the artistic couple.
During World War II, Emmy Lou became a draftswoman at the Ames Shipbuilding and Drydock Company office in San Francisco, and later moved across the bay to work in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. She first appeared in the Fore ‘n’ Aft masthead on June 16, 1944. Soon, in addition to her editorial work, Packard began to contribute art to the newspaper. She created scratchboard illustrations and drawings, drew a recurring single-frame cartoon “Shirley the Whirley” about an anthropomorphic rolling-and-turning shipyard crane with attitude, and collaborated on a cartoon strip called “Supermac,” which ran from September 8, 1944, through March 30, 1945.
Her debut as a shipyard illustrator in Fore ‘n’ Aft was July 28, 1944, with a powerful depiction of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 that year. Artillery shells bursting in a night sky blasted above the fold, accompanying a first-hand account by former Richmond shipyard worker Richard Cox.
Although she would continue to create a few more major graphics, her forte became “spot illustrations”– those sweet, tiny images that break up type-heavy pages. Often, but not always, the graphics would accompany a specific article such as tips on workplace safety or healthy eating.
The illustrations were never credited, so identifying those done by Emmy Lou is an inexact process. Her son, Donald Cairns, has helped to try and confirm the approximately 100 illustrations she created over her 15 months at Fore ‘n’ Aft.
Packard’s lengthy obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the approximately 100 paintings she made of shipyard scenes, but said nothing about her work on Fore ‘n’ Aft. Her son’s website honoring Packard’s career briefly mentions that stint without details, but until now no comprehensive survey of those illustrations has been available.
Such an omission can be explained by the unfortunate art world disinterest in something considered as lowly as labor newspaper illustrations as well as lack of access to the source material. The second limitation has now changed; this essay was made possible by a recent partnership between Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond (California) Museum of History to digitize as many issues of Fore ‘n’ Aft as possible. The graphics displayed here are the fruit of that digital collaboration.
What do the illustrations reveal?
The Kaiser shipyards began making transport vessels for the British government in 1941, before the United States joined the war. Two magazines covered seven yards (The Bos’n’s Whistle was the publication for the Portland, Ore., area Kaiser shipyards), and many of the cartoons and illustrations in the early issues reflect what one would expect from a trade dominated by straight, white, male industrial laborers of the time – sexist, racist, and homophobic.
But as a vastly different Home Front workforce replaced them, editorial sensibilities evolved as well. What a difference it made to have a politically progressive woman wielding a pen. Packard’s work was patriotic without resorting to racist jabs or stereotypes; she portrayed workers with dignity and character. She drew women’s experiences from a woman’s point of view – numerous vignettes show children (one of her regular subjects later in life), shopping, home life, and the challenges of survival and adjustment in a tempestuous time.
When Packard left Fore ‘n’ Aft, the editors wrote a testimonial on October 26, 1945 attesting to her contribution:
“Emmy Lou Packard is a fine artist. She painted the people who work in the yards with a deftness and freshness. But more, she sketched and painted how these workers feel. She pictured man in the complicated throes of the huge shipyards, with twisting pipes and rolls of cable drums, boilers and ten-ton steel plates, and plate shop presses fifteen feet high. Always man was a part of this complexity and always he controlled the huge machines and materials.”
These are but a few examples of Emmy Lou Packard’s previously unexamined yet important work.
Exhibition of Packard’s work at the Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front National Park, Richmond, Calif., 9/5/2015-12/30/2015
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These images are from the digital collection of Fore ‘n’ Afts collaboratively produced by Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond Museum of History.