Posts Tagged ‘Fontana Kaiser Steel Plant’

Henry J. Kaiser’s environmental stewardship

posted on April 20, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


“Being environmentally aware is more than good citizenship: if approached with a long-term perspective, it brings efficiencies, saves money, and improves competitiveness. For Kaiser Permanente … environmental stewardship is a core business tenet, and it started in the beginning.” -“The Green Standard,” Fall 2008; Transforming Your Enterprise (Hewlett-Packard corporate magazine)

Newspaper ad from Fontana steel plant about reduced emissions, circa 1956

Newspaper ad from Fontana steel plant about reduced emissions, circa 1956

We couldn’t have said it better.

Henry J. Kaiser and his numerous industries – including the health plan and hospitals – have often been models of environmental stewardship. Although Henry J. Kaiser was no tree hugger, and on occasion his massive construction projects took shortcuts that today might make us cringe, he was an ethical leader who valued efficiency and frugality.

Here are several examples of Kaiser Industries and Kaiser Permanente environmental practices over the decades.

Environmental controls at Fontana steel:

One problem that was not given extra thought at the start but which became more and more burdensome was the matter of air pollution control. All of the original ovens and furnaces were designed with the same emission controls as the newest steel mills in the East, but that proved not to be enough in the smog-conscious Southern California. However, as troublesome and costly as the problem proved to be, his engi­neers and operators knew they would always have Kaiser’s backing in their efforts to be leaders in the field of air pollution control.
[In 1972 this was demonstrated affirmatively through an unconventional set of circumstances.]
-Heiner, A. P. (1991). Henry J. Kaiser, Western colossus: An insider’s view. San Francisco: Halo Books.

“Kaiser Industries Seek to Enrich Communities,”
Christian Science Monitor article on Fontana Steel plant; June 12, 1959

For people anywhere near the steel mill, one apprehension formed the question, “Will it make smog?” Henry Kaiser laid down a rule when the plant was started: “Don’t make it a nuisance.” His engineers believe they have carried out the directive. Nobody who travels out the San Bernardino Freeway from Los Angeles on a smoggy day can help wondering about those high stacks behind the eucalyptus trees that mark the steel mill. But looking closer, he grants that precious little smoke is visible.

From the start, Kaiser Steel built $5,000,000 worth of air control devices. It put electrostatic precipitators on the blast furnaces. Then it developed a $30,000 laboratory to study, among other things, the effects of air contaminants on plant life. Researchers of Kaiser Steel get leaf samples from 79 different places; they operate three greenhouses in the pattern of the smoke. One man puts it this way, “We’re working to be part of the answer instead of part of the problem.”

Over in Honolulu, Mr. Kaiser’s approach is the same. His plans for a $12,000,000 cement plant in Oahu stress that the operations will be “dust free.” Always a stickler for factory good housekeeping, Mr. Kaiser says he will do nothing that will cloud the island’s tropic skies.

Rachel Carson 1963_Page_1

Rachel Carson speaking at Symposium, 1963

“Kaiser Sponsors Talks on Scientific Dangers,” Planning for Health, Vol. 8, No. 4, December 1963

The largest audience in its 7-year history attended the symposium sponsored by Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Permanente Medical Group for the bay area medical community. Topic of the meeting, “Man against Himself,” was keynoted by Rachel Carson, biologist and writer. Her book Silent Spring drew attention of Americans to the destructive effect of poisons being sprayed to kill insects.

Other distinguished authorities discussed, during the two-day session, various other ways in which man threatens to destroy his own basis for life: tobacco and its relation to cancer and heart disease; the part played by social progress, with its pattern of inactivity and overeating, in a rising incidence of heart disease; the hazards of radiation…

SC Solar Project 1980 2

Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara solar energy project, 1980

“HEW funds solar energy project”
(Santa Clara, Calif.), KP Reporter, May 12, 1978

Kaiser Permanente recently signed a contract with the federal government for a solar energy demonstration project at our Santa Clara Medical Center. The $203,000 project should be operational by early 1979. When operational, it is expected that 30% of the hot water used throughout the medical center will be heated by solar energy, which would mean a saving of 935 million BTU’s per year.

Our Redwood City Medical Center has been using solar energy on a much smaller scale for the past year or so. Although built in-house by Engineering staff with limited materials, the Redwood City effort has been effective in lowering the cost of utilities. (When it opened, the project was one of the largest solar installations at a health care facility in the United States.)


So, what has Kaiser Permanente done for Mother Earth lately? Plenty.

Half the energy it uses in California will come from renewable sources by next year when solar and wind energy projects under construction are completed. Other efforts help improve previous programs – like phasing out furniture treated with fire-retardant and stain-resistant chemicals with healthier choices. And Kaiser Permanente has created the industry’s first Sustainable Food Scorecard, helping improve the environmental profile of the goods we purchase.

Kaiser Permanente – thriving with Earth Day since we began.


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Opening the Permanente Plan to the Public

posted on July 20, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer



“Total Membership, Bay Area Permanente Health Plan, January 1943 through January 1952.” From “A Report on Permanente’s First Ten Years,” by Sidney Garfield, MD, in the Permanente Bulletin, August, 1952.

First in a series on Kaiser Permanente’s 70th anniversary

During World War II, Henry J. Kaiser’s 50-cent-a-week nonindustrial health plan for his shipyard workers was so overwhelmingly popular that the Permanente Health Plan had trouble keeping up with enrollment and facilities. But as the war neared its end, plans had to be made about whether or not to keep it going.

On July 21, 1945, Henry J. Kaiser and founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield let it be known that their proven system of care would be open to the general public. The San Francisco Chronicle article led with this:

Henry J. Kaiser’s Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland, built to provide pre-paid medical care for 100,000 shipyard workers, has been opened to the public. Clyde F. Diddle, administrator of the $2,000,000 hospital at Broadway and MacArthur Boulevard, said that any individual may walk into the hospital and apply for complete, prepaid medical care. Groups of 25 workers under one employer may also obtain medical service. The 300-bed hospital has 80 full-time physicians and surgeons, laboratories, clinics, and pharmacies.[i]

Before this, many industrialists had adopted programs to improve their workers’ health, but Henry J. Kaiser was the first to embrace the public.

In September of 1945, the Permanente Health Plan in the Northwest (Portland, Ore. area) followed suit. The only Kaiser hospital in Southern California was at the Fontana steel mill, and it would open to the public as well. In 1984 Dr. Garfield recalled that decision:

The war ended, and we lost our [shipyard] membership, [but] the [Fontana] steel plant still continued. We had the facilities, we had a basic organization, and we had quite a few doctors who wanted to continue in prepaid medicine. I built up a contingency fund for this very purpose. I knew we would have a lapse at the end. We had [a] contingency fund. The whole thing was sort of a survival kit. The doctors decided they would like to continue. We had the organization. So we decided to open the plan to the community.

"A New Economics of Medicine" from Kaiser Foundation Medical Centers booklet, 1953

“A New Economics of Medicine” from Kaiser Foundation Medical Centers booklet, 1953

This shift had a profound impact on the wartime physicians working for the plan. Kaiser shipyard doctor Morris Collen, MD,  reflected on this transition in his 1986 Regional Oral History Office interview:

We were pleased when we were told that Dr. Garfield had decided to open the plan to the community. Already workers and their families were taken care of, so we were taking care of dependents–women and children. We had dropped down from 90,000 members to about 14,000 members in ’44. Of course, in order for us to survive, we had to get more members.

Dr. Garfield called all the physicians together at a noon meeting, and he told us that, with the war over, we were now released from Procurement and Assignment; we could do whatever we wanted. Dr. Garfield told us that he hoped that most of us would want to stay, and he’d find jobs for us; and if not, he thanked us. Quite a few left. That’s when I made my decision that I’d enjoyed very much what I’d been doing; I wanted to keep doing it, and so I told him that I would like to stay. He said fine, and that’s how I continued on. Most of the key physicians did stay on, and became the nucleus for the partnership.

And in 1962 Cecil Cutting, M.D., first executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, recalled the tension of those early years:

In the shipyards there’d been no lack of patients. A busload would arrive at the Richmond field hospital every 20 minutes. But as war ended and members remaining in the area wanted us to continue their medical care, we were faced with a big decision. Did the community want the pre-paid, group practice medical care that had worked well in an industry? Would early-diagnosis and preventive medicine pay off for the members, and for the Plan?

Some of our physicians had accepted our type of practice only as a war measure. When the war was over they went into independent practice. But a core of physicians who believed in this method, and liked it, decided to remain. We had some lean years and hard struggles.

Gradually the loyalty of members and our responsibility in maintaining economy and quality in medical care, paid off. [ii]

 And the rest is history.


More 70th anniversary articles:
Kaiser Permanente’s Early Support from Labor
Kaiser Permanente as a National Model for Care
Kaiser Permanente’s Innovative Spirit of Prevention and Health
Kaiser Permanente’s History of Nondiscrimination


[i] “Pre-paid Medicine: Kaiser Hospital in Oakland is Opened to the Public,” S.F. Chronicle, July 21, 1945.

[ii] “Leaders Tell How – and Why – Health Plan Grew,” KP Reporter, May, 1962.

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KP – “Working toward cleaner air”

posted on September 5, 2013

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente has often been an early adopter of technologies which reduce pollution – from cleaner steel mill stacks in Fontana to cleaner fleet vehicles in San Francisco.

Ad in Fontana (CA) newspaper about Kaiser Steel's pollution abatement efforts, circa 1956.

Ad in Fontana (CA) newspaper about Kaiser Steel’s pollution abatement efforts, circa 1956.

Kaiser Permanente methanol-fueled van, San Francisco, circa 1985

Kaiser Permanente methanol-fueled van, San Francisco, circa 1985


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Health care coverage for workers’ families didn’t come easy

posted on January 16, 2011

By Ginny McPartland 

Affordable health care was an elusive commodity in 1930s America. Medical practice was becoming more sophisticated, and qualified doctors were in great demand. Consequently, private professional care was out of reach for many Americans. Employer-sponsored health plans started to spring up in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but even those progressive prepaid plans were slow to add workers’ families to the coverage.  

In 1944, during World War II, the issue of family health care reached a critical point on the West Coast. War industry yards and plants were frantically producing ships, aircraft, tanks and other war materiel; thousands of migrant workers and their families flooded rapidly expanding communities. Many workers were sick when they arrived, and many became injured as they worked at breakneck speed to meet production deadlines. 

Permanente medicine, developed by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser and enterprising physician Sidney Garfield, was launched to take care of workers in Kaiser’s West Coast shipyards. The two had done this before: Garfield had set up a prepaid plan for workers on the Los Angeles Aqueduct project in 1933, and he and Kaiser had teamed up to care for workers at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state in the late 1930s. 

The Kaiser-Garfield prepaid, group practice plan for shipard workers was progressive and exemplary by all accounts. Unlimited medical care for the individual workers was provided for 50 cents per week. But Garfield and his doctors had their hands full, so initially only the worker – not the family members – was covered by the health plan. 

Young patient seen in Fontana Kaiser Steel plant clinic

Stuart Lester of “Medical Economics,” writes in the February 1944 issue: “The principal threat to the permanence of the Permanente Foundation – which provides virtually unlimited medical care for 130,000 Kaiser shipyard workers in two states* is the workers’ complaint that it makes no provision for their families.” 

The article continues: “The family problem is especially acute in the shipyard town of Richmond, Calif., where the ratio of physicians to population is something like 1 to 4,000 and where the only hospital facilities of any consequence are those provided by Kaiser’s Richmond Field Hospital.” 

In Richmond, Portland (Oregon) and Vancouver (Wash.), nonsubscriber family members were treated for a fee.  Office visits were $2.25. For maternity, $200 covered prenatal care, delivery, hospitalization, C-section if required, postnatal care, and care for the newborn. Employees at the Kaiser Fontana steel plant in Southern California were the exception. In 1944, Fontana workers could purchase complete coverage for a family of four for $1.80 a week. 

Physicians debate how to cover families 

“Medical Economics” writer Lester refers to three possible solutions proposed at the time: an expansion of the Permanente plan to include family members; an expansion into the Richmond area by the California Physicians’ Services (CPS) prepaid plan as operating in other war industry communities; or the development of a prepaid arrangement for families through a private physician network. 

The California Medical Association (CMA) launched the CPS in 1939 to offer prepaid care to low-income families in California. Initially, the physicians association’s plan offered a “full coverage contract” that included all outpatient physician services. In 1942, CPS excluded the first two doctor visits from coverage to make the plan financially viable, according to the April 1943 issue of the CMA’s “California and Western Medicine.” In 1943, CPS, the precursor to Blue Shield, had 39,000 commercial members, 5,100 government rural health program subscribers and a total of 32,000 war housing resident members in Vallejo, Marin, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Permanente Richmond Field Hospital

“Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, Kaiser’s medical director, sees two obstacles to an extension of his program to include families: One is opposition by the local medical societies. The other is lack of facilities – particularly in the hospital at Richmond,” Lester wrote in “Medical Economics.” The article noted that expansions of the Richmond Field Hospital and the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland were under way. 

The second proposal – having CPS provide family coverage for Richmond area workers – had been tried previously and failed. In 1942, CPS  had offered a family plan in nearby El Cerrito and was not able to attract enough members. The coverage for non-Kaiser workers was enticing: a $5 flat fee no matter how many family members. It wasn’t practical for Kaiser employees, however.  To take advantage of the CPS plan, a worker would have to buy his or her own coverage for $2.16 a month and then pay $5 for the rest of the family. 

According to the “Medical Economics” article, solving of the family care issue by fee-for-service doctors was doomed from the beginning.  A shortage of private doctors and inadequacy of medical facilities made any such plan unfeasible.  Also, California private practice physicians were admittedly just tolerating the Permanente model of prepaid, group practice with salaried physicians. One private doctor told the magazine: “The Kaiser-Garfield groups are doing a job right now that is aiding the war effort, and are doing it well. But we don’t like their system.” 

Kaiser extends coverage to shipyard families 

In the spring of 1945, the Permanente medical plan, now with expanded facilities to accommodate more members, was extended to the families of all Kaiser shipyard workers. “Medical Economics” reported the details of the Permanente family care plan: for $117 a year ($2.25 per week) for a family of four, coverage was extensive. It included 111 days of hospitalization, complete diagnostic services, necessary drugs, physician services at home or medical office, major and minor surgery, and ambulance service within a 30-mile radius. Members paid an extra charge of $60 for comprehensive maternity care, $15 for a tonsillectomy and $2 for a house call. 

“Medical Economics” concluded the article with this statement: “Insurance men pointed out that the total annual cost for a family of four, $117 a year, is an amount which has generally proved to be too high for any wide participation on a voluntary basis.” 

Workers who left the shipyards could maintain coverage for a “slightly higher” premium as long as they continued to live in the service area. This retention provision foreshadowed Kaiser and Garfield’s plans to keep the Permanente medical care plan alive after the war industries shut down. 

*Kaiser shipyards health plan actually took care of workers in three states, California, Washington and Oregon, and enrolled up to 190,000 members at the peak of the war.

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