We know that Henry J. Kaiser was a geodesic dome pioneer. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two of the first civilian domes in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii. There’s another plan from the same year (never built) for a “Medical office building for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.”
The Permanente Foundation hospital at Panorama City (1962-2008) featured seven double circular floors, an example of Dr. Sidney Garfield’s “circles of service” concept. Dr. Garfield explained that in a 1974 interview:
In the center was a work space for the personnel, the supervisor right in the middle, with the public or patients coming in from an outside corridor – the peripheral corridor, central workspace concept. This would permit us to keep the central area clean, as the contaminated areas go out the outside corridors so you don’t get any cross traffic. It kept the orderlies and all the people who moved stretchers out of the central work space and so forth and the supervisor is right there so she can see everything.
Yet there’s one more – the Portland Child Service Centers built in 1943 for the workers at the Oregonship and Swan Island shipyards. The center at Oregonship opened for children on November 8, 1943, Swan Island Center soon afterwards on November 18.
These structures represented an innovative approach to building that carries over to present at the Kaiser Permanente, although the organization is no longer builds round things – or does it?
Current hospital and building designs focus on environmental stewardship and patient safety, with a healthy dose of aesthetic brilliance thrown in. A news article on how design and healing go hand in hand called out the award-winning 2016 Kaiser Permanente, Kraemer Radiation Oncology Center in Anaheim, Calif., as featuring “fritted glass that evokes a forest and provides both light and privacy.” And it’s round, or at least rounded.
The 1943 Portland buildings were designed by the Portland, Ore., architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips (George M. Wolff and Truman E. Phillips), creators of several important Kaiser and Permanente facilities.
George Wolff (1899-1978) was a personal friend of Henry Kaiser’s son Edgar, and through that connection drew the firm into designing the worker’s housing at Bonneville Dam in Washington in 1934. In they created the 1942 Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital to serve the workers in Kaiser’s three northwest shipyards, as well as the wartime city of Vanport of almost 40,000 people.
After the war, the firm designed the conversion of Ford’s Willow Run plant in Michigan when Henry Kaiser took it over to produce automobiles, and later they designed the 1953 state-of-the art Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles.
Unlike the more conventional design of the Maritime Child Development Center in Richmond, Calif., the Oregon centers put classrooms in a circle around six separate playgrounds.
We hear about this idea in a March 1944 article “Designed for 24-Hour Child Care” in Architectural Record, where Wolff and Phillips credited the facility design to the “ring school” concept originally conceived of by modernist architect Richard Joseph Neutra.
Neutra (1892 –1970) was an Austrian-American architect who spent most of his career in Southern California. Like Wolff and Phillips, his style was “modernist” with plentiful natural light and open space, and during the mid-1920s was evolving a radial site layout for public facilities.
A March 2000 article in UCLA Today explains more about Neutra’s role in this design concept:
Perhaps the most striking examples of this belief were the various schools designed by Neutra in Los Angeles. His project for a Ring Plan School, with its ring of classrooms around a play area and a running track on the roof, was adopted in 1934 by the Los Angeles School Board and built in the Bell district. The building was much celebrated for its qualities of light, relationship of classrooms to outdoors and color of materials.
One of his ring plan schools was built in 1960 at Lemoore Naval Air Station near Fresno; it’s now the Neutra Elementary School.
The design of the Portland Child Service Center was innovative, effective, and exemplary. A 2009 historic building assessment of the Portland public schools noted:
The building’s form and details rejected the architectural conventions that characterized the previous era of school construction. The Portland Child Service Center (demolished) captures the ideals that would be explored in Portland’s public schools in the post-war period.
Rejecting conventions and capturing ideals – that would be a good characterization of Henry J. Kaiser’s approach to solving national problems.
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Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., (1917-1961) was Henry J. Kaiser’s younger son. On December 17, 1942, he spoke at a huge gathering of Kaiser Industries leaders under the theme “Together We Build.”
His comments resonate through the years on this Father’s Day 2017:
There has never been a time in my life when I could not turn to my father when I was in trouble and ask for counsel, no matter what he was doing. He had time enough, strength enough, to give me new strength, and new perspective. Dad, Edgar, and I have always talked things over. It is never one of us who fixes a problem, it is all of us.
And what is true of our personal family is true of every Kaiser enterprise. And we are the family, those of us here tonight, dependent on each other’s counsel.
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Polio and multiple sclerosis. These disabling diseases of the nervous system posed daunting medical challenges as the Permanente Health Plan emerged from World War II and the nation looked toward an improved quality of life. Until a polio vaccine was developed in the mid-1950s, it was considered one of the most feared diseases in the United States, and MS is the most widespread disabling neurological condition affecting young adults in the world.
California’s first polio epidemic broke out in 1934-1935, with a second following in 1948. And, on a very personal note, Henry J. Kaiser’s youngest son Henry Junior (1917-1961) contracted MS in 1944.
Henry J. Kaiser was determined to find the best therapy available, and through a 1946 Readers Digest article learned of Herman Kabat, MD, and his successful treatments. Kaiser sent Dr. Sidney Garfield, the founding physician of his successful World War II shipyard health plan, to assess the situation. Impressed with Dr. Kabat’s work, Dr. Garfield joined him to treat the younger Henry with considerable success. The rehabilitation program was deemed worthy of greater institutional support, and the Kabat-Kaiser Institute was born in Washington, D.C. (where Dr. Kabat practiced) in 1946. It was dedicated to “the restoration of the physically handicapped and to rehabilitate them to their optimum capacity, socially, economically, and physically.”
Eventually there would be two centers in California, providing the largest non-governmental civilian rehabilitation program in the United States for patients with neurological disorders. The Washington facility was followed by one in Vallejo (August, 1947) and a second in Santa Monica shortly thereafter. There was briefly a center connected to the Kaiser Oakland hospital, and the Washington facility was closed soon after 1950 when Dr. Kabat moved to Vallejo to direct the program.
The Santa Monica facility started out as the Edgewater Beach Hotel around 1925. In 1944 it was called the Ambassador Hotel and taken over by Army Air Corps as a Redistribution Station to rotate men out of combat. After the war, it became a private club, but not for long. The Permanente Foundation bought the building in October 1948 and opened it the next month as the Kabat-Kaiser Institute. A hospital ward was added January 1949.
A news account from 1952 described the setting:
First impression on entering the Santa Monica institute is that of stepping into a luxurious beach resort. A large swimming pool, beautifully furnished lounge, and inviting glassed-in beach-front patio are located on the ground floor. Shorts, pedal pushers, swim suits, and jeans are the principal attire. Second impression hits one like an avalanche. Every person in sight is either in a wheel chair, walking with crutches or body braces; or being pushed along on a gurney. Everyone appears happy and busy, going to or from a water therapy room, a physiotherapy section or exercise room.
Many volunteer welfare and social organizations contribute to the entertainment and special needs of the patients. Recreation includes nightly programs of moving pictures, “wheel-chair” square dances, bingo, water volley ball or variety shows.
Given the center’s proximity to Hollywood, it was often the site of cameo appearances by movie stars. But that relationship took a deeper step when the actress Ida Lupino directed (and co-wrote, and co-produced) a film there. Never Fear (1949, also titled The Young Lovers), a story about a beautiful young dancer with a promising career who contracted polio and struggled to recover, had personal meaning for Lupino, who had contracted polio herself in 1934. Lupino made the film to combat the public fear of polio during the 1948-49 epidemic, and captured the power of the center’s program using actual patients and, yes, a wheelchair dance.
The centers were busy; in 1950 the D.C. center was treating almost 200 patients, Vallejo saw over 400, and Santa Monica served almost 600. The staff at Santa Monica included over 60 therapists, psychologists and consulting physicians. Margaret “Maggie” Knott was the exceptional lead physical therapist who became world famous, along with Herman Kabat, for developing, practicing and teaching the technique of “proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.” PNF is a form of flexibility therapy that involves stretching and contracting targeted muscle groups.
Joel Bryan (1937-2005) was the Founder and Director of Disabled Students’ Services at UC Riverside and UC Davis. He was also a patient at Kabat-Kaiser Santa Monica from 1951 to 1954, and recalled his treatment in a 2000 interview:
Three months after I arrived there I could get up in a wheelchair for the first time. My spine was fused later, which straightened out my very significant scoliosis. I was 5’4″ when I got polio, and by the time I was sixteen or seventeen I was 6’2″ or 6’3″ – stretched out. There’s a lot of growing that occurs, and my back just wouldn’t support it. Those things got straightened out. I wound up with the use of my fingers on my right hand and the bicep on my left arm.
In 1955, Dr. Kabat left the organization. The Kaiser Foundation Hospitals assumed complete control and renamed the two facilities the California Rehabilitation Centers. In 1962 the name was changed to Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center to avoid confusion with state institutions with a similar name.
Santa Monica’s rehabilitation portion closed in 1962, the convalescent facility remained open until patients could be reassigned, and the site was demolished in 1964. The Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center and Hospital in Vallejo continues to this day.
Also see: The story of Kabat Kaiser Vallejo.
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Edmund (Ted) Van Brunt, Former Kaiser Permanente Research Director and Pioneer of Electronic Health Records, Dies at age 91posted on June 9, 2017
Excerpted from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research obituary by Janet Byron
Edmund (Ted) Van Brunt, MD, former director of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and a pioneer in the use of electronic health records in medical science, died at his home in Berkeley on May 19, 2017. A native of Oakland and longtime Berkeley resident, Dr. Van Brunt’s medical career with Kaiser Permanente spanned 36 years, from his appointment as staff physician in the Department of Internal Medicine in Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco medical center in 1964, to his retirement as director of the Division of Research in 1991.
“Dr. Van Brunt’s devotion to research helped build our Division into a nationally respected group,” said Tracy Lieu, MD, MPH, current director of the Division of Research. “He was revered for his steadiness and breadth of vision.”
In 1966, Dr. Morris Collen appointed Dr. Van Brunt as project chief of the Medical Data System in Oakland and San Francisco, a computer-based patient medical record system with a database designed to support both patient care and health care delivery research. The Medical Data System project developed a multifacility, computer-based system to support the medical data requirements of one million health plan members, 1,000 physicians, and numerous professional and paramedical support staff. The system consisted of two IBM mainframe computers, and medical data from Kaiser Permanente’s multiphasic physical exam was recorded on punch cards for processing.
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