, Heritage writer
George Halvorson was chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente from 2002 to 2013. In a recent oral history, he outlined his support for the role of the organization in celebrating and sharing its heritage.
“History is an asset to Kaiser Permanente for a number of reasons. One, it’s a good thing for us to have a sense of who we are and what our values are. I’ve talked about culture a number of times, but when people are making decisions in their day-to-day context, if people have a sense of what the culture is and what the historical legacy is, that helps guide the decisionmaking in positive ways. It’s good for people’s morale to have a sense of being part of an organization that has a history and a culture and a legacy. It gives people a sense of us, to be part of a culture and to be part of a legacy.
“I gave a talk in Washington state a short while ago … I said, ‘Anybody in this room from Kaiser Permanente?’ A couple of people raised their hand. I said, ‘Do you know the story of Sidney Garfield and the nails?’
[This is the anecdote about how Dr. Garfield’s commitment to accident prevention for the workers on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project in the 1930s led him to have staff pull dangerous nails from boards on the site, a preventive routine he carried forward at Grand Coulee Dam in Washington.]
They both said yes. They got it, and I said, ‘I should have you tell the story,’ but I told it. The story is told often enough because it says, ‘Sidney is our founder, Sidney is our giant, Sidney didn’t just look at after-the-fact heart attacks. He looked at how you go upstream.’ The nail story is a good story.
“Another thing that really is positive about the history is because we’re an organization with history, people in important jobs actually will periodically do important things in a good way because they’re thinking of their historical record. I’ve heard many people talk about my role in the history, when the history of Kaiser Permanente is written, I want it to show that I did this.
So, people knowing that we have a history—a legacy and a history—care about what their position’s going to be in that history. I think we benefit from that because I think some people do better, smarter, brighter, more effective things because they’re positioning themselves for their description in the history of Kaiser Permanente. So, I think our history benefits us as an inspiration for doing good things.
“We have a department that provides historical pieces. You could have a staff meeting and use the history of Kaiser Permanente as an example of why we should do a particular thing. The fact that we were the first people to put medical information on punch cards comes up with some regularity, and it’s used as evidence that this is a good trajectory for us to be on, and in fact, it’s one we’ve been on for a long time.
Those stories get told deliberately by people to make their points, to illustrate their points, and they also get told in the internal publications. It’s one of those things that once you read one of those stories, you’re likely to remember it. It’s a paradigm-changing story, to know that we had rooms full of punch cards as we were trying to build the very first generations of medical records, that is a memorable thing and it makes the point that this is a good thing for us to do. It’s the right context for us to be in.”
Excerpted from “George Halvorson: Kaiser Permanente Leader and Health Care Advocate” conducted by Martin Meeker in 2013-2014, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2016.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2adS88m
, Heritage writer
The completion of Grand Coulee Dam on the mighty Columbia River in Washington was a major accomplishment for Henry J. Kaiser. It was there that he hired Sidney Garfield, MD, to run the industrial care program, and it was also where he proved himself to be an industrialist who treated labor as a partner.
After the dam was finished in 1941, and Henry J. Kaiser had moved on to the pressing task of building ships for World War II, there was still work to be done. The Bonneville Power Administration had been created in 1937 as a federal agency to manage, sell, and promote the huge amount of electric power produced by the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams. As part of its campaign for public support, the BPA produced two documentary films —Hydro (released 1940), and The Columbia, which began production in early 1941.
At the suggestion of Smithsonian folklorist Alan Lomax, the BPA commissioned famed folk singer Woody Guthrie to write several songs.
In 1941 Woody recorded a set of 26 songs as the “Columbia River Ballads,” (later called “The Columbia River Collection”) many of which were used in the second film. World War II had stalled the project, and it wasn’t released until 1949 as The Columbia: America’s Greatest Power Stream.
Anna Canoni, Guthrie’s granddaughter and a director at the Woody Guthrie Foundation, remarked: “I think that was probably the only time he was paid. And they may have just said, ‘Write about this project,’ and then he took that to mean whatever he wanted it to mean for himself. I think some of his most powerful work came from that time period, from those 30 days that he spent on the Columbia River.”Among the songs Guthrie recorded for BPA were:
“Roll Columbia, Roll”
“Roll On, Columbia, Roll On”
(adopted as the official folk song of the State of Washington in 1987)
“The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done”
“Pastures of Plenty”
“Grand Coulee Dam”
“The Song of the Grand Coulee Dam”
Years later, the destinies of Henry J. Kaiser and Woody Guthrie would cross again. During World War II, Henry was the most prolific merchant ship builder in the world, and Guthrie served in the U.S. Merchant Marine – although never aboard a Kaiser-built vessel. (Kaiser was also an avid supporter of merchant mariners). Guthrie’s first tour was aboard the Liberty ship SS William B. Travis, followed by the Liberty ship SS William Floyd. His last ship was the C3-S-A2 cargo ship SS Sea Porpoise; Guthrie was aboard when a German submarine torpedoed (but did not sink) her off the coast of Normandy while engaged in the invasion of Europe on July 5, 1944.
There was a man across the ocean, I guess you knew him well,
His name was Adolf Hitler, goddam his soul to hell;
We kicked him in the Panzers and put him on the run,
And that was about the biggest thing that man has ever done.
Which is followed by:
The people are building a peaceful world, and when the job is done
That’ll be the biggest thing that man has ever done.
Woody Guthrie and Henry J. Kaiser – each building a peaceful world, in their own way.
Special thanks to David Keller for supplying the “Roll On Columbia” cover
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/28XaHyM
, Heritage writer
Fourth in a series on Kaiser Permanente’s 70th anniversary
“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”
– Henry J. Kaiser.
Innovation has been a part of Kaiser Permanente’s culture from the beginning. While many people think of a new technology or exotic surgical device when they hear the term “medical innovation,” Kaiser Permanente’s view is much broader.
From its very beginnings, Kaiser Permanente proposed a radical – and innovative – shift in the delivery of health care.
When Henry J. Kaiser and Sidney Garfield, MD., were taking care of the almost 200,000 workers on the Home Front during World War II, few of them had ever experienced routine medical care. People feared the expense of seeing a doctor, and delayed seeing caregivers, thus guaranteeing a more difficult treatment and a less positive result. But because the prepaid Permanente Health Plan was affordable and run under the same system that was already handling their industrial care, it changed how people accepted early treatment. Dr. Garfield himself was amazed by this phenomenon during his “dress rehearsal” of medical care for worker families at Grand Coulee Dam in 1938:
One of the most impressive lessons we learned was, prior to the family plan, you would go walking through our hospital and you would see quite a few very sick women and children – ruptured appendices, bad pneumonias and so forth, even diphtheria cases. Once the plan was in operation for a while, that changed. You no longer saw ruptured appendices, we saw early [inflamed but not ruptured] appendices. Never saw bad pneumonias, we would treat them early. And diphtheria entirely disappeared. In other words, people, once the barrier of cost was removed, were coming to us earlier and we could treat them earlier and keep them from getting complications and, I’m sure, keeping them from dying.[i]
Later, in the World War II shipyards, Dr. Garfield experienced the same conditions but on a much larger scale. He reflected on the challenges of treating the rookie workers:
Some of them were in such bad condition we jokingly would refer to our shipyard workers as a walking pathological museum. But in spite of all of that fact, they really built ships and built ’em fast. And not only that, but our plan was able to succeed and work and be sustaining with that tremendous load of all those sick people to take care of. It was a tremendous demonstration of the merits of our health plan and of its value of its economics.[ii]
Other preventive features of the shipyard health care plan included a rigorous process for assigning workers to suitable job classifications, training for the women in the industrial workforce, and extended child care services. And during the war, some of the more conventional medical innovation took place as well – such as Morris Collen, MD’s groundbreaking work on using penicillin to treat pneumonia cases.
Fast forward to the present, and Kaiser Permanente is continuing to promote preventive health services while also conducting high-quality, innovative research. Kaiser Permanente is coordinating a national health initiative to improve colon cancer screening rates to 80 percent by 2018, with a special emphasis on screening minorities and those without health insurance. And when a screening does detect cancer, a progressive Oncology Clinical Trials program selects promising new medications and techniques for members to consider, even before they are FDA approved and commercially available.
In Portland, Ore., Kaiser Permanente led a study showing that mailing test kits to patient homes improved colon cancer screening rates by 40 percent in underserved communities. Sometimes basic delivery systems — like the U.S. mail — can deliver innovative health care solutions.
As Henry Kaiser noted, not all medical innovations need to come forward as bright, shiny objects. Some of the most important ones appear in simple work clothes.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1KmGi87
[i] “Sidney R. Garfield in First Person: An Oral History,” by Lewis E. Weeks, Hospital Administration Oral History Collection, 1986.
[ii] Dr. Sidney Garfield interview by Dan Scannell, 9/1978.
, Heritage writer
One of the innovations that emerged in the World War II Kaiser shipyards was the application of prefabrication on a massive scale. Unlike the way ships had been built for centuries, piece by piece from the keel on up, prefabrication used assembly line processes to dramatically speed up output. Ship parts – such as bow sections, double bottoms, deck houses – were built in separate facilities in the shipyard and brought together for final assembly on the launching ways.
It made sense on paper, but when dealing with massive hunks of steel that was easier said than done.
Enter the whirley crane.
Before entering the ship building business, Henry J. Kaiser had recently finished building Grand Coulee Dam on the mighty Columbia River in Washington, a project made possible through the efficient flow of heavy materials. During the six years Grand Coulee was under construction, a new type of crane was developed to get the job done. It was called a “whirley crane,” a fast, readily moveable beast capable of handling large steel supports, pouring big batches of concrete, and positioning heavy dam conduits.
The whirley was invented by Clyde Wiley (president of the Clyde Iron Works, established in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1889) in the early 1920s. He designed it so that the boom and “A” frame would turn in a 360 degree circle – thus the “whirley.” Before Wiley’s crane was developed, rolling bridge cranes and “hammerheads” had been used almost exclusively for building bridges, unloading ships and other heavy construction, but their function was limited.
When California’s Kaiser Richmond yards were built, seven “Clyde” Grand Coulee whirleys were disassembled and shipped down from Washington. Yard Two had four of these former dam-builders; Yard Three had two, and Yard Four had one. As the yards expanded, other manufacturers – Colby Engineering, American Hoist and Derrick, Browning – also manufactured whirleys. Eventually Yard One had 17 whirleys; Yard Two, 23; Yard Three,19; and Yard Four, four.
The whirleys held bragging rights in the yards. Just as the giant container-ship cranes dominate today’s Port of Oakland skyline, the whirleys defined the wartime shipyards. The Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore’n’Aft, described their appeal in their January 8, 1943 issue:
Whirley crane work is the most spectacular in the shipyards and always is one of the things visitors find most fascinating to watch, especially when two cranes get together for a big double lift.
They had a 200-horsepower electric motor for the hoist cable and another 50 HP motor for swinging the boom, which allowed the whirley to lift as much as 60 tons. The control cabin was 90 feet in the air, and skilled operating engineers communicated with riggers on the ground by telephone.
As shipyard production processes evolved, some assemblies began to use two, three, and even four whirleys operating together. Sometimes this was simply because the object was too heavy for a single whirley, and sometimes it was to gracefully flip over a subassembly that had been built “upside down” to speed up welding. Whirleys also were used for dropping and removing the giant dry dock gates in Richmond Yard number 3. The continual drive to reduce the number of pre-assembled components depended on the efficiency of whirleys. For the Liberty christened the Robert E. Peary (produced in a record four days, fifteen hours, and twenty-nine minutes after laying the keel), shipyard workers were able to pre-assemble hundreds of parts into a total of 97 units that the whirley cranes lifted onto the way.
Whirleys were used to bring in major hull components such as the fore peak and the stern, as well as engines and boilers. Once the main deck was in place, the ship was ready for five deck houses. These were prefabricated in the Assembly Building (where a complete set was turned out nearly every other day) and transported to the erection ways by truck.
Here’s a description of the efficiencies achieved in the Swan Island (Portland, Ore.) shipyard, from The Bo’s’n’s Whistle 11/25/1943:
Swan Islanders have clipped another week per vessel off their high-speed tanker program by prefabricating forward cofferdams on jigs and then installing each entire section as a unit on the keel. The huge 82-ton section is built as nearly complete as possible at some distance from the ways. It is then lifted easily by two whirley cranes and dropped neatly on the keel in the ways.
The new [construction] method saves 784 man hours on each unit compared to the old method which consisted of erecting 13 separate sections plus eight tons of piping, all of which had to be fitted together piece by piece on the hull.
Other types of cranes filled different niches within the yard. Bridge cranes (or gantry cranes, which move back and forth on a track but cannot turn) were the tallest at 84 feet high and rated at lifting 100 tons. A special hammerhead crane used two “arms” to sort and feed raw steel in the plate shop. Locomotive cranes were used in the steel storage yard. Other cranes performed mobile duties on caterpillar-tractor bases or on trucks.
Whirleys were even depicted as anthropomorphic characters in the shipyard magazines. Emmy Lou Packard featured a drug-addled whirley as part of a Nazi sabotage plot in the cartoon strip “Supermac” as well as an emotionally wrought character in the single-frame cartoon “Shirley the Whirley.”
Today, a lone whirley crane remains at Richmond shipyard #3 near the S.S. Red Oak Victory, guarding the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park Visitor Education Center.
It’s the last remnant of a mighty breed that ruled the yards during World War II. Crane CW-3204 was a Clyde Iron Works machine, built in 1935 and shipped down from Grand Coulee to Richmond in August, 1941. After the war the crane was purchased by the nearby Parr-Richmond Terminal and used until 1998; a companion crane is still in use by that company (now known as the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation). In 2005 the crane was donated to the City of Richmond for use in the Rosie the Riveter Park. The City of Richmond, the Rosie the Riveter Trust, and numerous local businesses and organizations raised funds to move and install it at shipyard #3.
Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/1uFCoh9
As of March 2017 a webcam monitors an osprey nest at the top of the crane at right!
Thank you, Golden Gate Audubon Society.
The East Bay Economic Development Alliance will present its 2014 Legacy Award to Henry J. Kaiser today (Feb. 13) in a gala event at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
Kaiser is being remembered for the spirit of enterprise and economic development he nurtured during his lifetime in the East Bay community. He is well known for his work on Western dam projects, including the Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams built in Washington State in the 1930s.
But he is best known as co-founder with Sidney Garfield, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan.
Barbara Crawford, Vice President, Quality & Regulatory Services in Northern California will accept the award on behalf of Kaiser Permanente.
Industrial giant of the mid-20th century
Henry Kaiser is one of America’s great business leaders of the 20th century. In name recognition he ranks among the likes of steel man Andrew Carnegie, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller and auto industry pioneer Henry Ford.
A man “greatly restless and restlessly great, one of America’s last real Horatio Algers,” the Oakland Tribune said of Kaiser in 1958.
In the 1940s, Kaiser was called the “patriot in pinstripes” for revolutionizing shipbuilding during World War II. His global enterprises included automobiles, steel, cement, aluminum, engineering and mining, to name a few.
Today, he’s remembered most for his socially responsible approach to business, better wages and pensions, a collegial approach to working with labor unions, one of the 20th century’s greatest experiments in workplace childcare, a devotion to honesty in business, and the health care delivery system that bears his name.
He was inducted into Modern Healthcare’s Health Care Hall of Fame in 2011.
“He was a powerful and complex man who charged full bore and seemingly without rest through the best part of the 20th century, generating big ideas, mastering big projects and projecting an endless supply of big dreams,” wrote Michael Dobrin, curator of a 2004 Oakland Museum of California exhibit on Kaiser’s life.
“Henry Kaiser was a pioneer in the new breed of responsible businessmen,” is how President Lyndon Johnson described him. “I was constantly startled at the adventure and compassion and the social consciousness and (his) willingness to extend a hand to the working man.”
Henry Kaiser’s health care legacy
Henry Kaiser was a champion of prepaid, group practice medicine at a time when innovation in health care delivery was frowned on by the American medical establishment.
With Dr. Sidney Garfield as the visionary of the Health Plan, the program was conceived to serve Kaiser’s workforce during the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression at the Grand Coulee Dam construction site in Washington State.
The Health Plan matured in Kaiser’s World War II shipyards and was converted to a public plan in 1945 with 27,000 members.
Today Kaiser Permanente has more than 9 million members and 17,000 physicians and operates in eight regions around the country.
Follow this link to view a video on the growth and development of Kaiser Permanente:
By Lincoln Cushing
First in a series
How was it that Henry J. Kaiser, a successful international industrialist, became a friend of labor? Much of his position can be traced to acceptance of stronger labor legislation such as the Wagner Act of 1935, as well as to his heavy investment in government contracts.
Also, recent research has revealed the crucial influence of a previously little-known employee – Harry F. Morton.
Morton wryly and accurately described his unique position in a speech before a labor audience:
“I am a lawyer – God help me. . . Not only that but I am a lawyer who represents capital, and I am standing on a platform in a hall where there are only representatives of organized labor, and I have lived long enough to have them stand up and applaud me.”[i]
Author Stephen B. Adams noted that “Kaiser went well beyond both the spirit and the letter of the law to take a leadership role in industrial labor relations.”
Kaiser himself said in 1939: “I didn’t believe in unions at all many years ago. I wouldn’t hire union men on the job. (But) when the government decided that the men should be organized and that we should have collective bargaining, I decided I should abide by what the government wanted to do whether I agreed with it or not.”[ii]
Between the time Henry J. Kaiser helped build Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 and his death in 1967, his labor credentials became quite impressive. Examples include:
- In 1944 the wartime steel mill in Fontana, Calif., was the first basic steel-producing unit in the country to sign a union contract with the United Steelworkers of America – Congress of Industrial Organizations.
- In July 1946, the contract between the Permanente Foundation hospitals (Oakland and the Richmond Field Station) and the upstart Nurses’ Guild of Alameda County was among the first collective bargaining agreements for nurses in California.[iii]
- In 1950 the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union and the Pacific Maritime Association requested the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan to provide health care for all 22,500 of their workers up and down the West Coast; the plan soon covered 80 percent of members.
- In 1965, Henry J. Kaiser was the first businessman ever to receive the prestigious AFL-CIO Murray-Green award, for his achievements in health and welfare.
Harry F. Morton’s untold story
So who was Harry F. Morton? Few books or articles on Henry J. Kaiser mention him, or they do so only in passing. But recent research has revealed that he worked for Henry J. Kaiser as his labor specialist from 1936 into the early 1950s.
Documents have yielded a picture of him as a powerful negotiator with a good heart who brought Kaiser’s organization through a few minefields in the war years and earned praise all around – from his union contacts as well as his Kaiser colleagues.
Like many Americans, Morton’s own children were part of the war effort. His daughter, Myrtle, was the assistant woman’s coordinator in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards. His son, Jack, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Around 1936 Morton, who had been working as head of a division of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., was approached by Henry J. Kaiser with a tax case. Kaiser was so impressed with Morton that every month for five months he tried to hire him away as his tax man, and he eventually succeeded.
Morton soon became Kaiser’s point person on labor, just as Kaiser was getting ready for the huge Grand Coulee Dam project near Spokane, Wash.
Kaiser’s conversion outlined
Kaiser, a partner in the Six Companies construction consortium, had recently finished building the mighty Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam), a project plagued by labor strife and industrial injuries. Years later, Morton gave a speech to a labor audience in which he described the situation:
“Kaiser was not always the idol of the working man. He was at one time as tough an employer as any in the United States. That is all any of them knew in the construction game. Kaiser’s people built Boulder Dam (in the early 1930s), an open shop job.
“A few years later they built Grand Coulee, the tightest closed shop job you ever saw. We spent four days in conference on the labor contract at Spokane. We sat down with the Building Trades Unions and made a contract in about three hours.
“We sat down with the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers, and we were there three days making that contract. The laundry workers, the operators who run the moving picture machine, the service station attendants, the store clerks – everybody at Coulee Dam belonged to a union.
“And here is the interesting thing. We did not get ‘religion’ just because we liked you people. I am speaking of management now. We learned this: The cost per yard of concrete poured at Grand Coulee was less than it was per yard of concrete in Boulder Dam.
“The cheaper job was the closed shop, the union shop. The more expensive job was the open shop job. There is your beginning and reason for us getting religion, and when we got it we went all the way.”[iv]
But as Depression-era projects wound down and World War II loomed, Morton’s career as Henry J. Kaiser’s “labor man” (his formal titles included “Permanente Legal Advisor” and “Industrial Relations Counsel”) would encompass increasingly higher profile labor issues on a national scale.
Special thanks to Lynda DeLoach, archival consultant to the National Labor College, for research assistance in this story.
Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/LPvmH7
[i] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.
[ii] Stephen B. Adams, Mr. Kaiser Goes to Washington
[iii] Labor news roundup, This World, October 13, 1946; “Unions here sign nurses contract,” Oakland Tribune, July 26, 1946.
[iv] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.
by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
Healthy living benefits, women’s progress, and nursing history among past year’s blog subjects
In 2013, the quest to bring to light the best episodes in Kaiser Permanente’s history led us to a wide range of topics.
Our blog subjects included World War II Home Front stories, a little known saga about pioneering nurse practitioners in Sacramento, and the highlights of the 60-year career of Kaiser Permanente researcher/physician Morris Collen, MD, who turned 100 this fall.
We covered a special event featuring actor Geena Davis that showcased women, including a few Kaiser Permanente leaders, who overcame gender and ethnic discrimination to achieve success.
We got to unearth little known facts about Henry J. Kaiser’s part in the construction of the San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge, and we found buried video assets in our archive to tell the Bay Bridge story in film for the first time.
We were also able to produce a video clip capturing scenes of the medical staff who worked with Sidney Garfield, MD, caring for workers at the Grand Coulee Dam site in Washington State in the 1930s.
Healthy lifestyle promotion has deep roots
In our collaboration with the National Park Service, we enjoyed an opportunity to revisit the surprising benefits of food rationing during World War II. We also carried stories of the Rosie the Riveter Trust and its funding of community projects in Richmond, Calif., including “Rosie’s Girls”, an initiative to motivate girls from low-income families in their career choices.
Also, in Richmond, we participated in the 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr., volunteer day with Urban Tilth, a growing community garden project that harvests a crop of fresh fruits and vegetables for local consumption. Healthy lifestyles also got a push with a blog about the health benefits of walking.
Mining for history nuggets
For Lincoln Cushing, a highlight of the year was the opportunity to interview Jim Gersbach, Senior Hospital Communication Consultant for the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region.
Gersbach, who was with Kaiser Permanente for 27 years, lived through much of our history and has an amazing understanding of the organization.
The Gersbach interview will find its way into Kaiser Permanente’s collection of its leaders’ oral histories, many developed by UC Berkeley Regional Oral History Office. Here’s a taste of the conversation with Gersbach:
“Having worked (at Kaiser Permanente) for a quarter century, I strangely enough find that I have personal memories about what have now become historical periods of time.
“We’ve been doing this for 20, 30, 40 years, even back in the 1940s. (Looking back on our history), it’s really about asking, “What are (Kaiser Permanente’s) consistent values that don’t change over time?”
Collaborating to tell our story
Over the past year, we’ve collaborated with our partners at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park to help tell the Kaiser Permanente origins story in the permanent museum displays to be unveiled in the spring. In 2014, we will carry stories in our blog about news and events at the budding park.
We also look forward to sharing the stories about the opening of the Oakland Medical Center’s historical displays within the state-of-the-art hospital to open in 2014.
We’ve worked with the medical center staff to congregate assets for dynamic displays to tell the multifaceted 75-year history of Kaiser Permanente, including a section on the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing.
Heritage staff has supplied historical photos and factual material for other publications, including the Kaiser Permanente Procurement and Supply Department’s print newsletter, The Source, which won a national award.
We also contributed to materials developed by the Kaiser Permanente Latino Association and the Labor Management Partnership, which carried several short articles about labor history in the magazine Hank.
Other assets surfacing this year in Kaiser Permanente archives allowed the detailing of Henry J. Kaiser’s role in construction of the Caldecott Tunnel and his pioneering in broadcasting during the 1960s.
We’ve also found material that allowed us to tell tales of Kaiser’s strong personal interest in speedboat racing, and to offer glimpses into his exploits in the manufacture of cars, such as the racing Henry J and the Darrin sports car that caused a stir in the 1950s.
by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
This piece is a Thanksgiving offering, a display of our deep appreciation for all the health care professionals who keep us well.
Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources recently digitized some silent film footage of the Mason City (Washington) Hospital circa 1938. It shows doctors and nurses who were proud to serve at America’s largest Depression-era construction project, living under hardship conditions in a remote town with blistering heat and freezing cold.
This facility was the birthplace of the Kaiser Permanente health plan, where Dr. Sidney Garfield was brought up to care for the workers and families at Henry J. Kaiser’s massive Grand Coulee Dam project.
The original hospital at the site had fallen into disrepair and the unions claimed it was insufficient for their members’ health care. In 1938 Kaiser Industries won the contract to finish the dam, and Henry J. Kaiser and his son Edgar (General Manager of the project) spared no expense on a remodel. Among the many modern amenities installed was air conditioning.
In this clip Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield is seen exiting the recently-renovated facility to a gathering of doctors and nurses which includes Dr. Cecil Cutting (center of this frame, with a ball in his hand), Dr. Wallace Neighbor, nurse anaesthetist Geraldine “Jerry” Searcy, and RN’s Winifred Wetherill and Evie Sanger. The footage is short clip from recently digitized from Dr. Neighbor’s home movies, which also includes doctors on horseback, the local rodeo, scenes of Mason City, and dam construction.
See them thrive. Then go thrive yourself, and help build thriving communities.
Short link to this article ow.ly/rfrxU
By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
Cecil and Millie Cutting, a couple that looms large in Kaiser Permanente’s early history, met in Northern California at Stanford University in the early 1930s. He was training to become a physician; she was a registered nurse with a degree from Stanford. They met on the tennis courts and married in 1935.
During her husband’s nonpaid internship, Millie Cutting worked two jobs – for a pediatrician during the day and an ophthalmologist in the evenings – to pay the bills. He was making $300 a month as a resident when Sidney Garfield, MD, contacted him about joining the medical care program for Henry Kaiser’s workers on the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.
At Grand Coulee, Millie Cutting exhibited her strength as a staff nurse and as a community volunteer. Probably her most significant contribution was the development of a well-baby clinic in a community church.
Well-baby clinic supported by madams
As a volunteer, she organized the clinic and went door to door soliciting funds for its operation. She had no qualms about knocking on the portals of the town’s brothels.
“The madams were very friendly,” Cecil Cutting told fellow physician John Smillie, author of a history of The Permanente Medical Group. “The community church provided the space and the houses of ill repute the money – a very compatible community.”
The Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1940, and the medical staff and their families scattered. The Cuttings settled briefly in Seattle where Dr. Cutting set up a surgery practice.
But it wasn’t very long before World War II broke out and Dr. Garfield was called upon again to assemble the medical troops for a program at the Richmond, Calif., Kaiser Shipyards. Cecil Cutting was enlisted as the chief surgeon.
Garfield’s right hand ‘man’ at wartime shipyards
Millie Cutting volunteered to work side by side with Sidney Garfield to get the medical care program up and running and to take charge of any job that needed to be done.
She recruited, interviewed and hired nurses, receptionists, clerks, and even an occasional doctor, to staff the health care program that was set up in a hurry in 1942. She smoothed the way for newcomers and helped them find homes in the impossible wartime housing market.
Thoroughly adaptable Millie drove a supply truck between the Oakland and Richmond hospitals and the first aid stations and served as the purchasing agent for a time.
As she had done at Grand Coulee, Millie set up a well-baby clinic for shipyard workers’ families, and she opened her home in Oakland as a social center for the medical care staff.
By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
The image of Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney R. Garfield as a hammer-wielding workplace safety diehard has been passed down through the decades from his early days as a desert doctor. But is the legend true? Did Garfield really charge out into the dust and dirt himself and pound down rusty nails, shore up tunnels to prevent rock showers, and insist workers wear hard hats?
This story of Dr. Garfield’s passionate preventive practice on the Colorado River Aqueduct project has endured for eight decades, since about 1933. The oft-told tale conveys the young doctor’s commitment to worker safety and preventive care once he instituted the unconventional prepaid model of health care that saved his little hospital from extinction.
Garfield was certainly committed, but his allegedly active role in the cleanup of aqueduct work sites is a stretch of the imagination. And he was not alone in promoting workplace safety.
Fact or fiction?
The story has sometimes been presented as fact:
“There was a funny little story that Dr. Garfield, on the first day in which prepayment began in the desert, got up early in the morning with his hammer, and went around the worksite pounding down nails. . . The notion is that if you can keep the patients healthy, then it’s a good thing not only for the patient, but it’s a good thing, financially, for the program.” [i]
Sometimes it’s told as legend:
“There (in the Mojave Desert) he also discovered the importance of preventive medicine, and he strove to remove potential health hazards for the workers – although it is only legend that Garfield would go to the construction sites and pound down any protruding nails himself.”[ii]
And at least once the story has been cited in a novel about the desert doctor’s operations, where a fictional Dr. Sidney Garfield speaks to a fictional nurse:
“I picked up another nail. ‘Look at all these dirty nails. Just lying around, waiting for someone to step on them and end up with a puncture wound, tetanus, or worse.’ ”[iii]
In his own words
When we examine the historical record and let the doctor speak for himself, as in this circa 1934 quote in which he describes a disquiet of conscience from collecting fees from illness and injury, we see his true role.
“We had been anxious to have sick men or injured men come into the hospital because that meant income and that we would continue to exist. . . It was embarrassing to me to want people to get hurt. So we started to do safety engineering. . . We would get a bunch of nail punctures from a job and we would go out there and get them to clean up the nails. Or we would get a lot of head injuries . . . and we would get them to shore up the tunnels better.”[iv]
Garfield’s commitment to worker safety was genuine, but it was his nurse, Betty Runyen, RN, who actually went to the work sites to speak to the importance of taking salt tablets and drinking water to avoid sunstroke, and of donning gloves to prevent the spread of impetigo from pick axes and shovels. The competent nurse was also the visage of an angel in those hostile environs with her blonde curls and pretty smile.
Water district’s safety efforts
It should also be noted that Garfield and Runyen had help as well. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the builder of the aqueduct, and Workmen’s Compensation insurance companies all placed their own safety engineers in the field to remedy dangerous job situations.
The 1937 Colorado River Aqueduct project manual describes their role thusly: “It is the duty of the safety engineer and members of his organization to visit all work on the aqueduct at frequent intervals to see that the work is being carried on in accordance with established safety rules, to offer advice and instructions to those in charge of construction operations, and to assist in the elimination of dangerous operations and equipment.
“In addition, each division engineer is charged with the responsibility of reducing accidents to the minimum. Special safety meetings are held at various points along the aqueduct at frequent intervals and a regular plan of safety education is maintained.”[v]
All of these efforts apparently had an impact – accident frequencies were reduced to a point well below the average rate experienced in that class of construction during that period.
In the desert years (1933-1938), Garfield did not wield a hammer or gather stray nails at the job site. But it is still fair to say that he overturned the conventional wisdom that a physician must derive his income from illness and injury. In the desert he realized the incentive to keep people well and on the job. Thereafter, preventive care became paramount, first in his imagination, then in reality when he partnered a few years later with Henry J. Kaiser at Grand Coulee Dam project in Washington State.
Kaiser Permanente Core Values,” conducted by Martin Meeker in 2007, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2007.[ii] Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care? The Story of The Permanente Medical Group, by John G Smillie, MD; book review by Morris F. Collen, MD, The Permanente Journal, Summer 2001
by Tom Debley, the Permanente Press, 2009, p. 21