, Heritage writer
Garfield’s design of ‘dream hospital’ features unconventional and efficient layout
1953 was a big year for expansion in Kaiser Permanente. The fledgling Health plan opened state-of-the-art hospitals in three communities – Los Angeles and Fontana in Southern California and Walnut Creek in Northern California.
The Los Angeles Medical Center (on Sunset Boulevard) was the first to open, on June 16, 1953. The dream hospital design was inspired by Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield who worked with architect of record George M. Wolff.
The new hospitals debuted the concept of separate corridors for visitors and staff. Visitors could enter a patient room from an outside walkway, staying out of the way of busy medical staff moving along the interior corridor.
Garfield’s design called for decentralized nursing stations with one for every four rooms (one nurse per eight patients) instead of one per floor. Patient rooms had an individual lavatory with hot, cold, and iced water.
The futuristic concept of the “baby in a drawer” – a sliding bassinet that let a tired mom pass her newborn through for care in the nursery – was also introduced in the 1953 dream hospitals.
LA Times touted new medical center
The Los Angeles Times gushed about the $3 million facility, describing it as “sorely needed.” It also noted: “The Kaiser Hospital, operated by the non-profit Foundation, is open to the public, a fact not generally known. In addition to Health Plan patients, it also accepts private patients and charity patients referred by social welfare agencies.”
But that public aspect did not sit well with the Southern California medical establishment whose members resisted the arrival of prepaid, group practice medicine. The next month the Los Angeles County Medical Association sent out a questionnaire to its members with the header caption “This is the most important notice ever sent to you by the LACMA.”
Medical association resisted group practice
The cover page made clear the medical association’s concerns:
“Points have been raised as to whether this (Kaiser Permanente) is really a corporation practicing medicine, whether the ‘captive’ patients of the plan forced to join by their union is good for the welfare of the people, whether the patients receive adequate medical care, whether it is proper for a layman to control physicians, etc.”
Opposition reached a fever pitch in August 1953 when Paul Foster, MD, president of the medical association, condemned the Kaiser Permanente program as “unethical.”
These were difficult times for the fledgling Permanente group. The successful practice of high-quality medicine in gleaming new facilities like Sunset eventually wore down the opposition. By 1960, the local medical society attacks on the program had come to an end.
, Heritage writer
Organized labor played a big role in Kaiser Permanente history, and Heritage writer Lincoln Cushing contributes a column to the quarterly
Labor Management Partnership magazine Hank about that rich legacy.
The Winter 2013 story is about the Health Plan’s postwar struggle for survival, and the crucial support it got from labor.
“In the boom years after World War II, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan (KFHP) faced an uphill battle. It had expanded to the public in 1945, but the wartime truce between fee-for-service (medicine) and the prepaid, group practice model developed by Dr. Sidney Garfield had faded.
The gloves came off in 1953.” Read more here.
, Heritage writer
Millie Cutting was the wife of Kaiser Permanente’s pioneering chief surgeon Cecil Cutting, but her influence on the fledgling medical program during World War II contradicts any cliché prescribing the role of a doctor’s spouse. She was a vibrant, energetic force in her own right, a good woman behind a good man, but much, much more.
The Cuttings 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.
Millie was at first reluctant to leave San Francisco to relocate in the desert. But when Cecil convinced her that he would have more opportunity as a surgeon with Garfield than in San Francisco, she was game. “Oh, she was willing to go along; she had a lot of spirit and enthusiasm,” Cecil Cutting said in his oral history.
“I think with a little reluctance, perhaps of the unknown,” he told interviewer Malca Chall of UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office in 1985. “We didn’t have any money. She had worked during my residency as a nurse, to keep us in food.” Sidney Garfield was able to match the $300 Cutting was earning at Stanford to get him to Coulee.
A rough start at Grand Coulee
Unfortunately for Millie, things at Coulee didn’t start out too well. John Smillie, MD, writes: “Cecil and Millie Cutting resided in the company hotel. They were flat broke. The young couple had exhausted their resources getting to Washington. Neither of them thought of asking for an advance.”1
“My wife couldn’t take the heat very well,” Cutting told Smillie. “She would lay on the bed with a wet sheet over her; and we didn’t have enough money to eat, really. She would go to the cafeteria and see how far she could stretch a few pennies to eat. Of course, I ate well at the hospital and had air conditioning and everything.
“She finally learned to come over and sit in the waiting room on the very hottest days. Since then, Dr. Garfield laughed at us and said, ‘Why didn’t you ask me for money?’ We didn’t know enough to do that!”
“At the end of the first discomforting month, Cutting received his first paycheck for $350,” Smillie writes. “He and Millie moved into a remodeled schoolhouse, the largest home in the community, and it soon became the social center for the physicians and the Kaiser executives.”
Millie gets her groove back
During the rest of their time at Coulee, Millie not only got her energy back but she 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. 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 Smillie. “The community church provided the space, and the houses of ill repute the money – a very compatible community.”
Garfield’s right hand ‘man’ at wartime shipyards
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 assembe the medical troops.
Cecil Cutting was the first physician to arrive in Richmond, California, where Henry Kaiser set up four 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.
Perturbing postwar perceptions
After the war, Millie and Bobbie Collen, wife of Morris Collen, MD, started a Permanente wives group in 1949. The association created a support system against an often hostile medical establishment that shunned prepaid group practice of medicine as “socialist.” The physicians were not allowed in the local medical society, and the women felt socially ostracized.
“They organized themselves as the Permanente Wives Association, which had a nickname, ‘Garfield’s Girls,’ ” Smillie wrote. “They had dances, parties, picnics and social outings several times a year that were really a lot of fun. The auxiliary. . .became famous for its rummage sales.”
The Cuttings became good friends with Sidney Garfield, and in fact, he spent periods of time living with them in their Orinda home in the 1940s and 1950s. Cecil Cutting credits Garfield with the couple’s decision in 1948 to adopt their two children, Sydney and Christopher. “He talked us into it,” Cutting said.
Garfield often went to them for advice about business matters, as well. “I think he talked over a lot of things with Dr. Cutting and Millie,” said Smillie in his oral history. “He had a great deal of confidence in their judgment. If they told him he was wrong, he was able to accept it.”
The Cuttings were the friends Garfield chose to share the happy moment of burning the mortgage papers once the renovated Fabiola Hospital (the first Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland) note was paid off. The private celebration took place in the Cuttings’ home with just Garfield and Millie and Cecil present.
Dr. Cutting worked his way up to become the executive director of The Permanente Medical Group in 1957 and retired in 1976 after 35 years as a major figure in the organization. Millie Cutting continued to volunteer at the Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital all of her life. She had to quit in 1985 when she became too ill to leave her house. She died that year at the age of 73. Cecil Cutting received a flood of condolence notes from all the people whose lives Millie had touched.
One woman wrote: “When life seemed just too much, Millie’s unforgettable laughter would ring in my mind’s ear, and the will to tackle life again would be there like a gift from her. She didn’t just give. She was a gift.”
1 John Smillie, MD, Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care? The Story of The Permanente Medical Group, McGraw-Hill Companies, New York, 1991
, Heritage writer
As we wonder and worry about the fate of health care in America, it’s interesting to look back at how Kaiser Permanente physician leaders saw the future just after the 20-year-old health plan got a firm foothold in the 1960s.
Cecil Cutting, MD, executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, told of his worst fears in a talk to a group of hospital administration graduate students at the University of Chicago on Nov. 17, 1966.
“Looking ahead, there seems little doubt but that our present ‘derangement’ of providing medical care is totally inadequate to absorb the onrush of the technological revolution that is now upon us, even if the rising personnel costs can be absorbed,” Cutting lamented.
“The tempo of the hospital has changed from a relatively easy-going, low cost charity institution to a competitive, high cost one, with third parties paying the costs and becoming ever more critical of hospital management,” Cutting said.
A 1935 Stanford Medical School alumnus, Cutting joined Sidney Garfield when he established a medical care program at the Grand Coulee Dam job site in the late 1930s. During the war, Cutting also took a leading role in Garfield’s Kaiser wartime shipyard program in Richmond, California.
1960s changes threatened traditional medical care delivery
Cutting was talking about the mid-1960s climate that included newly enacted government-paid Medicare-Medicaid programs for the elderly and poor, a flood of new medical technology, health care professionals’ demands for higher pay and a proliferation of union and company health plans for workers.
With the blessing of KP founding physician Sidney Garfield, Cutting laid out the problem: “Today we have many individual, unrelated, competitive hospitals seldom organized among themselves as a team, for the most part with unorganized staffs of physicians, serving an unknown population – a population unknown both in numbers and in health requirements.
“The consequences of continuing along our present path of complete disorganization are staggering and make the need to change methods of organizing medical care inevitable,” he told the group.
Cutting warned that high technology was too expensive for an individual institution to purchase on its own. He said a system should be established in which medical facilities are designated as one of three types: a community preventive health center; a service hospital for routine care, such as trauma, appendectomy, hysterectomy, maternity, hernias, cancer surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry; and a “super-specialty” hospital.
‘Super-specialty’ hospital to optimize high technology use
The highly specialized treatment facility envisioned by Cutting (perhaps the precursor of a center of excellence) would be designed for handling neurological cases, open-heart surgery, megavoltage radiotherapy – the types of cases that required the most sophisticated equipment.
Here, specialists would take care of a sufficient number of patients referred from other facilities to optimize utilization of the equipment and highly skilled staff.
As it happened, Kaiser Permanente was in the process of developing such a system by this time, and Cutting could report its success to his audience. “In Northern California area the Kaiser Permanente program is working along these lines, though it is by no means a finished demonstration,” Cutting said.
“The (Kaiser Permanente) group practice-prepayment arrangement is, in itself, a step toward improving organization of medical care and undoubtedly makes accomplishment of further organization considerably easier to attain.”
Health center concept proposed
The health center concept, which Cutting called “predictive and preventive medicine,” had already been developed and was in operation in KP Northern California. “Forty thousand patients a year are being given an extensive health questionnaire (to complete), updated each year, and an automated battery of some 20 test measurements plus 18 laboratory procedures amounting to almost 1,000 different characteristics on each patient,” Cutting continued.
With this information, all recorded in a computer data base, KP physicians compiled knowledge of each patient’s changes from year to year. This information helped physicians to predict illness and to advise patients and their families about how to prevent chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Data compiled about whole populations, i.e. KP members, also helped researchers answer such questions as: Can treatment of asymptomatic patients with a slight increase in blood sugar prevent diabetes altogether or merely postpone the disease? With data from a questionnaire about a patient’s psychological state, researchers compared the effectiveness of psychiatric services versus medical office visits for reducing total visits for emotionally disturbed patients.
Too many specialists spoil the broth
Cutting complained to his audience that medical schools were turning out too many specialists, a trend that threatened basic medical care. “It would appear that the rush for super-specialization may be leaving behind an ever widening gap in well rounded, competent medical judgment.
“Though the individual episode of care may be superb, it certainly does little for the orderly development of efficient, economical medical care as a whole.”
In what must have surprised many, Cutting suggested that medical education should develop a new type of medical doctor: the preventive, predictive specialist. “Following the natural development of disease of entire families over long periods, alerted to early changes through the screening program, he becomes a health specialist.”
Today, both primary care and preventive medicine are specialties recognized by the American Board of Specialties.
Kaiser Permanente has advanced Garfield and Cutting’s ideas about preventive care and health appraisals in a variety of ways over the decades. KP physicians promoted healthy eating and exercise for the workers in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards, and they began offering preventive testing in the 1950s for members of the longshoremen union and other groups.
KP’s ‘Total Health’ concept emerges
In the 1970s, health education centers were established to teach patients how to stay well; Garfield’s Total Health Research Project launched in the 1980s led to the opening of special centers where healthy patients received their routine care.
Centers for preventive medicine functioned within KP for many years, largely giving way to periodic screenings for particular diseases such as breast and colon cancer, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Healthy Living programs, an expansion of member health education, have flourished in the past decade offering many classes in good nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation and stress reduction.
Cutting ended his talk with a few wishes for the future: community institutes to teach people to preserve their good health, easily shared electronic medical records, and above all, cooperation among health organizations to provide a broad spectrum of care – from the preventive to the most complicated.
“When (all) care, whether in super-specialty hospitals, service hospitals, extended care, office or home, is correlated . . . I will begin to see hope,” he said.
, Heritage writer
First in a series
In the 1960s, dubbed the “Development Decade” by the United Nations, Henry J. Kaiser’s enterprises were literally all over the map. Kaiser’s companies were mining bauxite for aluminum in Jamaica, manufacturing cars in Argentina and Brazil and working on a huge hydroelectric project and aluminum smelting plant on the Volta River in the emerging West African country of Ghana.
Kaiser Engineers were also building a dam on the Bandama River in Ivory Coast, West Africa, as well as undertaking projects in various parts of India, including construction of a dam, hydroelectric plant, an aluminum plant, a steel mill and a cement facility. Kaiser Engineers were involved with the Snowy Mountain project – construction of tunnels, aqueducts, dams and hydroelectric plants in the mountains of eastern Australia.
As in his American ventures, Henry Kaiser’s enterprises on foreign soil developed medical services for workers at the job sites and often in the community. In many places, including Australia, India, and Ghana, the government required Kaiser to build hospitals at each of the construction locations.
“In a sense, this was a recapitulation of the early experience of our domestic medical care program, which had its origins in providing health care for workmen and their families at construction sites in the Western United States,” wrote James P. Hughes, MD, Kaiser Industries vice president of Health Services in 1972.
KP executives tapped to develop health facilities abroad
Clifford Keene, MD, Kaiser Permanente president at the time, was thrilled to participate in the launching of medical care projects in foreign lands.
“I went to Australia several times because Kaiser Engineers were involved in the Snowy Mountain Project and I was involved in the location and construction of hospitals there. . .I went to India twice, once for a period of almost a month. I found myself in places with exotic names, Uttar, Pradesh, Mysore, and Jamshedpur.
“So all of this was going on and it was just a big, spreading, challenging, wonderful, exhilarating kind of existence. While we were having all the troubles in the Permanente Medical Program (in California), getting reorganized, I was involved in these other challenges, which gave me satisfaction and sort of balanced the scales against the frustrations of dealing with the Permanente program.”
Ernest Saward, MD, medical director of Kaiser Permanente’s Oregon Region, traveled to Argentina in 1960 to help establish a medical care program for Kaiser automobile workers in Cordoba and Buenos Aires. Saward said the Argentines didn’t trust the Kaiser organization initially and expected the company to superimpose a foreign health system on the community.
“The reaction back from Argentina was, ‘You folks in California put some millions in this and build us a hospital and everything will be all right.’ From what I’d already learned, I saw that if (Kaiser in partnership with the Argentines) put any millions in a hospital it would be confiscated within months. That was the nature of Argentina at the time. They play rough. Now I never personally got shot at; I was only threatened with a saber,” Saward said with a laugh in a 1986 oral history.
Saward and his artist wife managed over time to infiltrate the Argentine culture and make essential contacts for Kaiser. “They saw that we were somebody they could relate to, that (we) wanted to understand them and to understand what I would call their general, cultural events, and not be an isolated colony.
“They began to entertain us, and I spent hours lying on the living room floor, drinking red wine in front of a fireplace with these guys, until they finally understood what it was we were trying to do, and once they really got a feeling for what we wanted to do, they said, ‘Let’s do it’. We did it with the best medical group in town and with the best hospital in town, and it’s still going (1986) and it cost us in toto, $55,000.
“What had to be done in Argentina was to make an indigenous plan and not a foreign plan and (to make it go) it had to be done as an indigenous plan by what were respected elements in the community. (That’s how) we did it,” Saward said.
Requests for help from international community multiply
As Kaiser Industries continued to work abroad into the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges for providing health care kept coming.
This was a period when African nations were gaining their independence, and the international community was interested in promoting industrial development to improve the economies of all underdeveloped countries. With new industry and its attendant growth, the budding nations were struggling to provide essential services to their citizens, both natives and newly arrived workers and their families.
To address these issues, seven hundred industrialists from 70 nations gathered in the San Francisco Bay Area in September of 1969 to figure out how to close the gap between the “have” and “have not” nations.
“There was much talk about the responsibilities of private enterprise in developing countries; about the need for more effective allocation of resources; about the need for business to interact with the society in which it finds itself,” noted KP President Clifford Keene in a talk to the Industrial Council for Tropical Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston in 1969.
Kaiser’s people learned the hard way what this meant. In Ghana on the Volta Dam project, Kaiser leaders discovered pretty quickly that – despite the government’s well-laid plans – the company needed to initiate environmental programs to ensure safe water and pest-control measures to protect workers from the spread of debilitating disease.
Once the dam was completed, Kaiser began construction on a smelter plant to manufacture aluminum. “. . .the first responsibility was to provide care for the work injuries, since the existing health care facilities in the town were grossly overburdened,” wrote Hughes.
Health planners forced to improvise
For these foreign projects, many necessitating brand new cities or towns, Kaiser’s goal was to establish health care facilities for its workers, their families and often for the community at large. Hughes said in most countries where Kaiser had developments health care services had to be introduced in waves, depending on available services. Often, sanitation and safe water needs and the dire need for training of locals in basic care methods were the first priorities.
To provide health services, Kaiser Industries initially engaged the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care program. By 1964, however, Kaiser leaders realized the need for a separate entity and established the not-for-profit Kaiser Foundation International (KFI) to administer the foreign medical care programs. With Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the rise, requests for consulting help started to come from places where Kaiser Industries didn’t already have a presence.
Between 1964 and 1969, the international group was engaged for medical care projects in 15 African countries. By 1975, KFI had been hired and paid for projects in 30 countries around the globe, including rural locations in California, Utah and West Virginia.
Next time: Kaiser Foundation International gets contracts to resurrect a hospital devastated by the Nigerian civil war, to train Peace Corps workers for African rural health projects and to consult on many foreign health care projects.