Archive for March, 2018

5 Physicians Who Made a Difference

posted on March 26, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


In honor of National Physicians Week we are sharing profiles of 5 outstanding doctors who advanced the practice of medical care with their service at Kaiser Permanente.


Dr. Sidney Garfield at Contractors General Hospital, 1935

Sidney R. Garfield, MD (1906–1984)

Dr. Garfield is Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician. As a surgeon, he first applied the principles of prepaid group medical practice while providing health care for construction workers on the Colorado River Aqueduct in California’s Mojave Desert in 1933.  In 1938, Henry J. Kaiser and his son Edgar invited him to organize a similar program for construction workers and their families at Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. During World War II, Dr. Garfield developed a medical care program for hundreds of thousands of workers and family members at Kaiser shipyards in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Portland/Vancouver area, as well as at the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, California. Historians have noted that one of the century’s major social contributions was the role of Dr. Garfield and Henry Kaiser in co-founding Kaiser Permanente and launching employer-sponsored health care in the United States.


Dr. Hickman at Oakland Kaiser Permanente, circa 1970

Eugene Hickman, MD (1921–2013)

Dr. Hickman was the first African-American physician to join The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California. Dr. Hickman graduated from Nashville’s Meharry Medical School (the second-oldest medical school for African-Americans in the nation) in 1949, then practiced as a radiologist at several Los Angeles facilities — the City Health Department, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the Veterans Administration hospital — before coming to Kaiser Permanente. He had a long career at the Oakland Kaiser Permanente Hospital, becoming president of the hospital staff and later chief of the department of radiology. He ended his 30-year tenure in 1989.


Dr. Beatrice Lei with patient, 1947

Beatrice Lei, MD (1910–2002)

Dr. Lei, a Chinese immigrant, was one of the 16 physicians recruited by Dr. Garfield in 1944–45 to serve the health care needs of the World War II Kaiser Richmond shipyard workers. She helped transition the health care program into the postwar era and became the first female and first Asian physician accepted as a partner in The Permanente Medical Group in 1948. Dr. Lei served as chief of pediatrics at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Field Hospital from 1946 to 1966, and continued practicing there until she retired in 1975. Frederic Geier, MD, who was physician-in-chief at Richmond Medical Center during her tenure, said, “Dr. Lei has always been one of the most popular pediatricians here. She has a wonderful rapport with children and their parents.”


Dr. Morris Collen, cover of Modern Medicine, 1968

Morris Collen, MD (1913–2014)

Dr. Garfield recruited Dr. Collen to be chief of medicine for the industrial health care program for workers in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards in July 1942. Over the course of his career at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Collen saved lives by pioneering the treatment of pneumonia with penicillin, by applying efficient medical diagnostic processes to hard-working longshoremen, and by using then-new mainframe computers to automate the analysis of the “multiphasic examinations” he’d helped develop for incoming health plan members. He is considered one of the founders of the field of medical informatics.


Dr. Philip Tong Chu

Philip Tong Chu, MD (1918–1970)

Hawaii-born Dr. Chu was the first Hawaii Permanente Medical Group director from 1960 to 1970. He was a respected surgeon and visionary leader who was praised for his abiding respect for Hawaii’s cultural diversity. He earned his medical degree from Pennsylvania Medical School of St. John’s University in Shanghai, China, in 1944. As part of the World War II reconstruction, Dr. Chu was regional medical officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, China Division. After surgical residency at several U.S. hospitals, he served at the U.S. Public Health Service Indian Hospital at Sacaton, Arizona, and later served in Detroit. He spent the remainder of his life in Hawaii, working as a doctor and administrator.


Short link to this article:




Birth of a Hospital

posted on March 21, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Click to play video – Henry J. Kaiser and Dr. Sidney Garfield inspecting new San Francisco Permanente Foundation Hospital

It was a labor of love.

And the “baby” was a short silent film about the building and opening of a flagship hospital in San Francisco, shot by one of Kaiser Permanente’s early pediatricians, John “Jack” Smillie, in the early 1950s.

This was a period when Kaiser Permanente was building several state-of-the-art hospitals in California. In addition to huge member growth, the fact that the medical establishment routinely denied Permanente physicians hospital privileges pushed Henry J. Kaiser to go out and build his own.

The San Francisco facility was built on the city block bounded by Geary Boulevard, O’Farrell Street, Lyon Street, and St Joseph Avenue. The Berkeley Daily Gazette gushed about this $3 million hospital “incorporating advances in design and equipment that are expected to influence future hospital planning.” It was Kaiser Permanente’s 16th medical facility, with “ultramodern” features, including “vast amount of glass in its exterior and interior construction, separate corridors for hospital personnel and the public, decentralized nurses’ stations, hotel-type floors for convalescents, self-service devices for patients and a private nursery plan.”

Dr. John Smillie in top hat and tails with wife and daughter, breaking ground for new SF hospital, 1952.

An amateur photographer, Dr. Smillie shot this 16mm footage of the 7-story, 225-bed hospital between 1952 and 1955. It includes an homage to the earlier San Francisco facilities that served well when the health plan was opened to the public in 1945 — the leased Harbor Hospital at 331 Pennsylvania Avenue, the clinic at 515 Market Street — as well as the Oakland hospital and medical offices across the bay. It featured the hospital groundbreaking on April 27, 1952, and an initial move-in day of September 1, 1953, before the construction was even finished.

Dr. Smillie (1917–2002) was the first full-time pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco Medical Center, where he practiced from 1949 to 1977. He served as chief of pediatrics from 1954 to 1961, assistant physician-in-chief from 1957 to 1961, and physician-in-chief from 1961 to 1971.

Dr. Smillie noted in a 1987 oral history, “I knew San Francisco would grow and become a major medical center of the Program, and I had hoped to build up a pediatrics staff of about 10 pediatricians, and start a residency training program in pediatrics, and train young doctors to be good pediatricians.” He wryly lamented that by 1960, “I was still a very young doctor . . . [and] I had already achieved what I’d set out to do in the first place.”


Short link to this article:


Tags: ,

Henry J. Kaiser and the New Economics of Medical Care

posted on March 13, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Funding for hospital construction may seem like a dry subject.  But it’s vital if you live in a community that doesn’t have adequate facilities for health care.  And that was the situation after the Great Depression and World War II, when hospital construction virtually stopped. In this stirring speech before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 1954, Henry J. Kaiser appealed to the information influencers to promote passage of legislation for building more hospitals. In it, he uttered this bold challenge:

If we can build ships, and planes, and tanks, and guns, and bullets to protect our national security, can we not build hospitals, and clinics to protect the lives of our people?

This podcast explores many of the same themes as this one by Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Sidney Garfield, MD: the challenges of providing affordable, quality health care to a population that was new to the concept of a health plan. In this speech, Henry Kaiser artfully engages his audience by pointing out the economic similarities between prepaid health care and print journalism:

Your services are paid for monthly by the subscribers of the thousands of newspapers all over the country.  You offer comprehensive news coverage on a monthly payment basis. We do have that in common.

Health care for the people, a challenge in 1954 as it is today.


Short link to this blog and podcast:

Tags: , , , ,

Slacks, Not Slackers – Women’s Role in Winning World War II

posted on March 8, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Gladys Theus, welder in Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2 who won “fastest welder” contest, 10/15/1944. Photo by E.F. Joseph; courtesy Careth Reid collection.

March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Women played a vital role in the World War II home front. But advancements in workplace equality didn’t come easily. Women faced significant hurdles at the start, and then had to struggle for recognition afterward. Still, women who worked in the Kaiser shipyards helped lay the groundwork for a new era that included, among other advances, greater employment opportunities and child care options.

Breaking Down Employment Barriers

Women were initially excluded from membership in the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America, the largest union in the WWII shipyards and a gateway to employment there. So, on September 8, 1942, women welders and burners, representing hundreds barred from war production jobs in the new Marinship Corporation shipyards at Sausalito, stormed Boilermakers Local No. 6 offices in San Francisco, demanding the right to work. These white women were the first excluded group to win full admission to the Boilermakers Union.

The impact of women going into previously male-dominated occupations was the subject of heated public discussion. Just as they had during World War I, women in industry raised eyebrows as they donned trousers, overalls, and the more modern equivalent – slacks.

As National Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin points out, black women would later be allowed work, but only through a second-tier level of the union, and after black men had gotten jobs.

Medical checkup at Kaiser Oregonship child development center, circa 1944

First Steps for Child Care

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Kaiser Company shipyard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, on April 5, 1943 to personally launch the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Casablanca. But Eleanor 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.

President Roosevelt, at Eleanor’s suggestion, had supported the first government-sponsored child care center in the summer of 1942 under the Lanham Act. But this was private industry. 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. These centers at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, and Portland, Oregon, yielded valuable research results that helped fuel the study of early childhood education for decades after the war.

International Women’s Day – a  time to reflect, a time to plan.


Short link to this article:

Tags: ,