Southern Comfort – Doctor Gaston and The Southeast Permanente Medical Group

posted on December 10, 2018

Guest post by Cuong Le
Permanente Medical Group historian

 

New physicians Anne and Harper Gaston, May 23, 1955

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.

Doctors Gaston and Carlson reviewing clinic plans, September 29, 1985

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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