Archive for February, 2016

Jack Slater – early diversity in Kaiser Permanente communications

posted on February 25, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Reporter 1968-11

Jack Slater, KP Reporter, November, 1968

Last year Kaiser Permanente celebrated the 70th anniversary of opening our health plan to the public. And Ebony, the influential pictorial news magazine celebrating African-American life and culture, also turned 70 years old last year. This Black History month we celebrate one of Ebony’s writers (later an associate editor), a talented young man who got his professional start as editor of two Kaiser Permanente publications.

The November, 1968, issue of the KP Reporter carried this announcement:

Jack Slater has joined the Northern California Region’s Public Relations department in Oakland where, in addition to other duties, he will edit the publications Planning for Health and the K-P Reporter.

Mr. Slater was formerly associated with Addison-Wesley Publishing Company as a copy editor of textbooks. Prior that affiliation, he served on the staff of the Philadelphia Board of Education as a curriculum editor.

A 1958 graduate in journalism, Mr. Slater received his degree from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Mr. Slater was only at Kaiser Permanente a year before moving on to a newly created position in the Chancellor’s office at the University of California at Berkeley. By 1971 he was an editor of the Journal of Educational Change at UC Berkeley.

Slater cancer- det

Jack Slater article in Ebony, November, 1979

Within a couple of years Mr. Slater was writing for the influential African-American magazines Ebony and Jet. Some of his first Ebony articles were subjects close to home. “The Guard Changes in Berkeley” covered the radical electoral victories where two African Americans were elected to the city council on the April Coalition slate. Another, “Putting Soul into Science: Black nuclear chemist searches for elusive superheavy elements,” profiled UC Berkeley Lawrence Livermore scientist James A. Harris.

Mr. Slater’s Ebony articles also covered important health issues affecting the African-American community, including “Hypertension: Biggest Killer of Blacks” (June, 1973) and “The Terrible Rise of Cancer among Blacks” (November, 1979).

During the 1980s and 1990s Mr. Slater also wrote for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, California, Essence, Emmy, and Rolling Stone. In 1993 he wrote a book on Malcolm X for the Cornerstones of Freedom young adult book series.

Nothing is known of Mr. Slater after the 1990s, but we are proud that such a gifted and passionate writer was part of the Kaiser Permanente communications family.


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Infographics – fusing pictures and data since World War II

posted on February 12, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


KCI Swan Island 71.

“On to Berlin” competition, Kaiser Swan Island, 1944

It seems that infographics are all the rage these days, but are they just a passing media fashion? After all, the term itself didn’t appear until around 1973 as a slice of the broader information representation pie known as data visualization. But a survey of material in our archives reveals examples created for the Kaiser shipyard workforce as early as 1943, placing Kaiser communicators at the forefront of media cool.

The two weekly shipyard newspapers – Fore ‘n Aft in Richmond, Calif., and The Bos’n’s Whistle in the Portland, Ore., area –  printed items that would certainly qualify as infographics by today’s standards. Then, as now, the purpose was to make data more compelling to a reader and ideally draw him or her into a deeper understanding of events or issues.

Bo's'ns Whistle, June 17, 1943, p. 8

“Increase in employment of women: 3 Kaiser yards,” Bos’n’s Whistle, June 7, 1943

One simple example from 1943 portrays the dramatic increase in employment of women in the Oregon and Washington shipyards. Like effective infographics of today, it was an attractive part of a bigger article.

Another, published for Richmond shipyard workers towards the end of the war, examines more complex data by comparing the average length of a patient’s stay between 1943 and 1944 in three settings – the Kaiser shipyard industrial health care plan, the Kaiser supplemental nonindustrial health care plan, and private plans.

F&A 1945-05-25

Hospital stay infographic, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 1945

But photographs of the yards reveal another creative format for infographics – large, public displays. Some of these were used to promote the “healthy competition” for which Henry J. Kaiser was famous. These three are from the Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Ore.

KCI Swan Island 84.

“Mechanical Joe” war bond drive, Kaiser Swan Island, 1944

“Who will eat turkey? Who will eat beans?” notes the high stakes in the good-natured challenge. “Mechanical Joe” adds real 3-D component to the information presented, and “On to Berlin” puts many departments on track to smash the Axis center.

All of these were creative and clever approaches to making routine numbers interesting and relevant – a tradition Kaiser Permanente carries forward to this day.

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KCI Swan Island 81.

“Who will eat turkey? Who will eat beans?” competition, 1944, Kaiser Swan Island. The T-2 tanker is the SS Nickajack Trail at her outfitting dock; in 1946 she ran aground at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific while attempting to rescue two Japanese ships destined as targets for the first postwar US atom bomb test “Able.” Her wreck is still there.



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Kaiser Permanente member cards – paper, plastic, or pixels?

posted on February 3, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Permanente Health Plan card, 1942

Permanente Health Plan card, Kaiser Richmond shipyards, 1942

Every Kaiser Permanente member receives an ID card. It looks like a credit card, with embossed lettering and a magnetic strip on the back, and is the first thing asked for when arriving at a Kaiser Permanente facility. Just last year, Kaiser Permanente began launching a “digital membership card” that lives on a smartphone to supplement the prosaic wallet card.

But even the physical cards have changed over time. And the Kaiser Permanente heritage archives would like your help in better understanding their evolution.

KP Member card, NW region, 1961 [circa]; [KPNW discrete collection II]

Northwest member card, circa 1961.

When the Health Plan was first set up to serve the World War II workers in the West coast Kaiser shipyards and Fontana (Calif.) steel mill, employees were issued identification cards as members of the 50-cent-a-week non-industrial health plan. A shipyard newspaper article advised:

Flash your identification card when you go to Permanente Field Hospital: it’ll save you time. These I.D. cards are given Health Plan members when they first go to the hospital, and have the patient’s chart number on them. On subsequent trips to the hospital, treatment will be stepped up if a person can just show his card, speed the location of his record in the chart room.

Reporter 1962-07

New member cards, article in July 1962 Reporter

Later the health plan was extended to family members in 1943 (Portland, Ore., area) and 1945 (Richmond, Calif.). Still a benefit of employment, the plan identification was through the primary working adult. An article in the Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft noted:

All members of the Family Health Plan have been asked to have the badge number and yard number of family member at hand when applying for treatment at Permanente hospitals. The director of the family plan, Dr. Kuh, asks that badge number be handy in order to forestall delays in treatment. All records on patients are kept in the order of badge numbers under the yard in which the family member works. When the wife or child of a worker who has signed for the family plan shows up at the hospital without this information delay results while the personnel files are checked at the yard.

Sample new plastic KP membership card, NW region, Pulse 1969-03

Sample new plastic Northwest membership card, March 1969

When the war ended and the plan was opened to the general public in 1945, surely some form of ID card was issued – but we don’t have any examples.

Our earliest card comes from around 1961, a simple little paper ID with name, file number coverage, group number and date enrolled. But in 1969 credit card technology took over, and for the first time cards could be mechanically processed. The Pulse, a monthly publication by and for employees of the Kaiser Foundation Medical Care Program in Oregon, published this article March 1969:

The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Oregon announces an important new step which will speed the handling of medical records and make things easier for everyone.

Within the next 30 days all subscribers and enrolled family members will be mailed new plastic identification cards. The new cards are imprinted in raised letters and numbers with name and chart number together with other identifying information necessary for the medical record.

Using the plastic card, which looks like a charge plate or credit card, this information can be quickly and easily imprinted on any record going into the permanent medical chart. It will save time and will mean that the patient will not have to answer the same questions each time a visit is made to a Kaiser facility. All around, it will make for faster, more efficient service.

KPNW member card, original plastic, scan from photo; 1980 [circa]

Northwest member card, original plastic, scan from photo; circa 1980

By 1980 the cards sported the Kaiser Permanente logo, but were otherwise pretty much the same. At some point a magnetic strip appeared on the back, and the coverage details were dropped. It turned out that when Plan member groups changed benefits, Kaiser Permanente ended up having to reissue thousands of cards, especially during Open Enrollment.

If any readers have vintage member cards we could include in our archives, drop us an email and we can discuss details. We certainly don’t want you to expose personal health information!


1942 member card image courtesy the J. Porter Shaw Library of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, special thanks to Steve Gilford.

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