, Heritage writer
It was a labor of love.
And the “baby” was a short silent film about the building and opening of a flagship hospital in San Francisco, shot by one of Kaiser Permanente’s early pediatricians, John “Jack” Smillie, in the early 1950s.
This was a period when Kaiser Permanente was building several state-of-the-art hospitals in California. In addition to huge member growth, the fact that the medical establishment routinely denied Permanente physicians hospital privileges pushed Henry J. Kaiser to go out and build his own.
The San Francisco facility was built on the city block bounded by Geary Boulevard, O’Farrell Street, Lyon Street, and St Joseph Avenue. The Berkeley Daily Gazette gushed about this $3 million hospital “incorporating advances in design and equipment that are expected to influence future hospital planning.” It was Kaiser Permanente’s 16th medical facility, with “ultramodern” features, including “vast amount of glass in its exterior and interior construction, separate corridors for hospital personnel and the public, decentralized nurses’ stations, hotel-type floors for convalescents, self-service devices for patients and a private nursery plan.”
An amateur photographer, Dr. Smillie shot this 16mm footage of the 7-story, 225-bed hospital between 1952 and 1955. It includes an homage to the earlier San Francisco facilities that served well when the health plan was opened to the public in 1945 — the leased Harbor Hospital at 331 Pennsylvania Avenue, the clinic at 515 Market Street — as well as the Oakland hospital and medical offices across the bay. It featured the hospital groundbreaking on April 27, 1952, and an initial move-in day of September 1, 1953, before the construction was even finished.
Dr. Smillie (1917–2002) was the first full-time pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco Medical Center, where he practiced from 1949 to 1977. He served as chief of pediatrics from 1954 to 1961, assistant physician-in-chief from 1957 to 1961, and physician-in-chief from 1961 to 1971.
Dr. Smillie noted in a 1987 oral history, “I knew San Francisco would grow and become a major medical center of the Program, and I had hoped to build up a pediatrics staff of about 10 pediatricians, and start a residency training program in pediatrics, and train young doctors to be good pediatricians.” He wryly lamented that by 1960, “I was still a very young doctor . . . [and] I had already achieved what I’d set out to do in the first place.”
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2ua7CIw
By Lincoln Cushing
Third in a series marking
Black History Month
Kaiser Permanente executive Alva Wheatley, who can claim a number of firsts for African-American women in business, was inducted into the Kaiser Permanente Diversity Hall of Fame in 2007. She retired in 1995 after 31 years of service.
Wheatley was the first woman of color to serve as a Kaiser Permanente hospital administrator, and was the first female vice president of facilities construction, both for the Health Plan and throughout the building industry.
She was the first woman of color on the Northern California Kaiser Permanente regional leadership team and the first black person and first woman to serve as Health Plan national vice president.
She was also the first executive responsible for Kaiser Permanente’s diversity program and is co-founder of the Kaiser Permanente African-American Professionals Association established in 1990.
During her tenure as head of facilities construction, Wheatley oversaw the development of five hospitals and 10 medical office buildings.
Wheatley has deep roots in the Kaiser organization; both of her parents worked in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during World War II and were members of the Kaiser Health Plan in the 1940s.
Alva began her career at Kaiser Permanente in 1964 when she took a position as assistant receptionist supervisor at the San Francisco Medical Center.
She held various management positions after that, including hospital administrator at the South San Francisco Medical Center for three years. She returned to San Francisco as hospital administrator in 1981.
Subsequently, she was appointed vice president and manager of Facilities Development for the Northern California region and was later named national vice president for facilities for the Kaiser Permanente program across all regions.
In 1989 Kaiser Permanente management formed the Minority Recruitment and Development Task Force to more systematically address institutional inequalities. Among other activities, that group conducted an employee survey and developed recommendations leading to an official Policy Statement on Cultural Diversity.
In 1991, while Wheatley was serving as facilities head for Northern California, she took on a two-year special assignment as vice president and manager of the Kaiser Permanente’s Cultural Diversity Project for the national program.
“So much of valuing diversity is simply increasing awareness . . . you can’t just confront people and tell them they have to change overnight,” she pointed out. “So we start with awareness and confronting our own prejudices. It doesn’t guarantee people will change their opinions right away, but they will have to change their behavior.”[i]
Wheatley’s appointment further underscored Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to those ideals. She visited all of the Health Plan’s regions and listened to learn about each of their situations. “My job is to help the regions identify what they need to do to deal with their own issues,” she said.
Alva Wheatley served as a role model for women and people of color in Kaiser Permanente; the 2007 Diversity Hall of Fame Award honored her pioneering spirit in making the Health Plan a better place to work.
Kaiser Permanente Diversity Hall of Fame Award inductees:
2002: Beatrice Lei, MD; Robert J. Erickson; Ella Mae Simmons, MD
2003: Fred Alexander, MD; James A. Vohs
2005: Ed Butts, MD
2007: Edgar F. Kaiser; Alva Wheatley
2008: Sandra Cox
[No inductees 2009-2012]
Watch video of her story: https://youtu.be/VqWXiqMjuak
[i] Article in KP Spectrum, Fall 1992.