, Heritage writer
During World War II, Henry J. Kaiser’s job wasn’t just getting ships built. It also included providing the services all those workers needed — such as child care, housing, health care, and transportation. Fast forward through history, and a $20 million commuter ferry terminal is opening right next to the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where thousands of Kaiser shipyard workers on the home front produced cargo vessels.
Those workers had ferry service, too — a few hundred yards from the new terminal, across the Richmond Inner Harbor Channel.
A news item in the shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft on September 17, 1942, noted, “After untiring efforts by Labor-Management committees in all three yards, the trial run of the San Francisco ferries to the shipyards took place Wednesday of last week.”
The hour-long trips went from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to the slip at the parking lot along the estuary at Yard Three. Ferries arrived 15 minutes before shifts started and left 30 minutes after shifts ended. The fare was 10 cents each way, and passengers could buy food onboard.
The service was sponsored by the U.S. Maritime Commission and run by the Wilmington Transportation Company, which operated the Los Angeles-Catalina Island ships. Pressed into duty were craft from the Key System, the enormous public transportation service of San Francisco’s East Bay, and included relics such as the side wheeler Yerba Buena. Some of the ferries carried automobiles.
The Commission proposed four ferries run between Richmond, San Francisco, and Sausalito, with almost continuous service to accommodate the staggered shifts at the Kaiser Richmond and Bechtel’s Marinship (Sausalito) yards.
The wartime ferries weren’t the first to come to Richmond; regular service between Richmond and San Rafael had operated since 1915.
By 1943, the ferry service was overwhelmed, and thousands of workers threatened to quit because it wasn’t running on time and was making them late to work. Under Maritime Commission rules, worker pay was docked if they were 15 minutes late. Faster ferries were put in service.
Some of the transits were quite eventful. The Klamath rammed a surfaced submarine in the middle of San Francisco Bay on July 1, 1944, (minor damage, no injuries) and almost collided with an anchored — but loaded — ammunition ship in the foggy morning of September 5, 1945.
A new auto ferry pier was one of the first infrastructure projects authorized after the war ended. Construction at Castro Point, at the terminal of Standard Oil (now Chevron), commenced in early 1946, and service began March 1947. By 1951, plans were being drawn up for a Richmond-San Rafael toll bridge. When it opened in 1956, the bridge was the last across San Francisco Bay to replace a ferry service.
It’s unlikely the new generation of Richmond ferry passengers will risk hitting a submarine or an ammunition ship, but they can travel with pride knowing that commuters to the Kaiser shipyards over 70 years ago were part of a bold social experiment in child care, housing — and health care.
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Permanente Medical Group historian
History is often a treasured story passed down through generations. The history of The Southeast Permanente Medical Group, opened in 1985 to serve the Georgia area, is one such story: It begins with a group of doctors who had a vision of building a community focused and patient-centered culture.
Georgia native J. Harper Gaston, MD, was one leader who graduated with his medical degree from Emory University and worked as an internist at Grady Hospital. After Kaiser Permanente hired Dr. Gaston in 1961, he moved to California and worked at hospitals in the cities of San Leandro and Hayward. As HMOs expanded throughout the 1970s, Kaiser Permanente saw the opportunity to develop medical group practices in other geographical regions. After much research and discussion, Atlanta was one of two selected areas for expansion during the early 1980s.
News of Dr. Gaston’s success in hospital administration, combined with his re-election as physician-in-chief at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Hayward, convinced Kaiser Permanente leaders to approach him with plans to establish a medical group practice in Georgia. Atlanta was a growing urban capital, attracting the attention of major corporations and leaders around the world. However, the city’s lack of familiarity with HMOs before 1980 presented a challenge for Kaiser Permanente’s geographical expansion.
Dr. Gaston and Edgar T. Carlson, MD, a colleague from Kaiser Permanente’s Ohio Region, went off to open the new region. Georgia. When they arrived in Atlanta in 1984, State Insurance Commissioner Jimmy Caldwell revealed that previous agreements with existing HMOs prevented Kaiser Permanente from receiving the certificate needed to establish an HMO in Georgia for a year. Dr. Gaston turned the unexpected situation into an opportunity by spending the next year meeting with physicians and community organizations.
The bonds formed between Dr. Gaston and the Georgia community became lasting partnerships when Kaiser Permanente finally received the certificate during the summer of 1985. After opening their first medical office, Dr. Gaston and a team of physicians volunteered at the Downtown Day Labor Service Center and conducted medical exams for the homeless on Friday nights. When the annual school budget ran out, they volunteered to continue hearing and vision screenings for elementary schools through the Adopt-A-School program.
Since the first Kaiser Permanente medical office opened in Atlanta more than 30 years ago, Kaiser Permanente in Georgia has grown to more than 25 offices around Atlanta and one in Athens. And the momentum continues. A recent agreement with Emory Healthcare provides Kaiser Permanente members with a fully integrated health care experience, and in the process, advances patient- and family-centered care in metro Atlanta and beyond.
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