Posts Tagged ‘Southern California Kaiser Permanente’

Healing starts with communication

posted on August 29, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Spanish medical communication instructor Miriam Amor in class, 1974.

Kaiser Permanente has long been a health care innovator. The KP health plan, which served an ethnically diverse population as far back as the WWII shipyards, has always been aware of the need for what is now called “culturally competent care.” 

The article “Clases de Espanol en Santa Clara” in the November 1, 1974 employee newsletter KP Reporter described one such program:

“La medicina que estoy tomando para mi condicion no me esta ayudando,” says the woman to a pharmacist. “Que es la resulta de mis rayos equis?” asks a patient of a technician. “No me siento muy bien, me siento enfermo,” a child tells a receptionist.

Do you know what these people are saying? “The medicine I am taking for my stomach condition is not helping”; “What is the result of my X-ray?”; “I am not feeling well, I feel ill.”

These and many more equally important me ages are spoken daily by Spanish-speaking Health Plan members at the Santa Clara Medical Center. Many Mexican Americans who are multilingual may still be unable to express or understand a crucial medical word or phrase. This can be annoying and time consuming to employee but dangerous to an anxious patient.

Communicative Spanish for Medical Personnel, Spanish 50, is the KP Department of Education and Training’s attempt to help the staff communicate inSpanish taught by Mrs. Miriam Amor of West Valley College. It is one of six college-credit courses being offered this semester at Santa Clara by the Department of Education and Training under Lorraine Brobst.

Ms. Brobst observed: “Almost every department that comes in contact with patients has someone in the class – Reception, Central Appointment, and this department, as well as Nursing, a psychologist and a doctor.”

Southern California’s KP facilities needed multilingual services as well. A 1975 issue of their member newsletter Planning for Health describes a similar commitment to language training:

Off-duty employees at Bellflower Medical Center are taking part in a beginning Spanish conversation course in order to improve communication with Spanish-speaking patients. According to Robert Essink, assistant hospital administrator, “Accessibility of care can be improved by better communication. The purpose of the course is to develop a basic understanding of conversational Spanish, with emphasis on medical phrases.”

In addition to the language class, emphasis is on placing Spanish-speaking personnel at key patient contact positions throughout the medical center, and providing Spanish language instructional and procedural signs.

In the current epoch, Federal law – and common sense – requires that patients with limited English proficiency have access to linguistic services at each point of contact in a health care system. To address that challenge, Kaiser Permanente established a “Qualified Bilingual Staff Model” that identifies bilingual staff members of all types (including doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists), assesses their language skills, and provides them with comprehensive training based on their level of linguistic competency.

As of 2014, over 11,400 staff members in all seven KP regions have trained in the award-winning program (among other kudos, in 2005 it won the Recognizing Innovation in Multicultural Health Care Award from the National Committee for Quality Assurance and was the core program noted in Kaiser Permanente’s 2013 Corporate Leadership Award from the Migration Policy Insitute).

Clear communication about health care is a crucial first step toward a successful outcome – and a challenge taken seriously by Kaiser Permanente from its inception.

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Widow of Permanente pioneer shares fond memories of Garfield

posted on January 24, 2011

By Steve Gilford 

Senior KP History Consultant 

Ira "Buck" Wallin, MD, pioneer of Southern California KP

A recent phone call brought me the sad news that Jeanne Wallin, wife of the late Ira “Buck” Wallin, MD, a Southern California Permanente Medical Group pioneer, had passed away this month at the age of 89.  

I first met Jeanne a bit more than ten years ago when my interest in recording first hand accounts of the origins of Kaiser Permanente led me to her and Buck Wallin, one of the first Permanente doctors on the ground in Southern California. 

In 1950, after just a few weeks at the Permanente hospital at the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, Calif., Permanente founder and executive director Sidney Garfield enlisted Wallin to open medical offices to care for longshoremen at Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro. This was the first expansion of the program into Southern California outside of the steel plant and the beginning of the Southern California Region.  

After Buck’s death in 2002, I remained in occasional contact with Jeanne. A cheerful, articulate woman with an easy manner, she enjoyed reminiscing about “the old days.” Unlike others I had talked to about Dr. Garfield, Jeanne Wallin knew him neither as family nor as physician. He’d been a friend with whom she, her then-husband, Joe Lydon, and a group of other couples, would often share weekend afternoons and evening parties. 

Permanente founder had movie star quality 

Jeanne Wallin, at left, playing cards with Sidney Garfield, MD, on Sea Star about 1976

Jeanne, a native of Oakland, Calif., had married Wallin in 1987 after the death of Lydon, a marketing consultant.  It had been Lydon who, in 1972, had introduced her to Dr. Garfield. Before Jeanne met Sidney Garfield, Lydon told her, “You’ll like this man, he’s such a gentleman; everyone likes him.” Soon Jeanne and Joe had become close friends with Sidney, his wife Helen, Health Plan Regional Manager Karl Steil and Karl’s wife, May. 

“Almost every weekend, Sid and Helen came down (to Alameda) so we spent a lot of time together.” What they all had in common was a fondness for boats and so much of their social time together was aboard either the Steil’s boat or their own, berthed near each other at Alameda’s Ballena Bay Yacht Club.  

According to Jeanne, Dr. Garfield had a movie star quality. “He reminded a lot of people of Spencer Tracy . . . The women adored him.” Even so, she recalled, “He was very, very quiet around me.” However, after they’d become better acquainted, he began to open up a little. 

“One day, we were cruising somewhere.  He and I were sitting out in the cockpit and he told me all about designing the Oakland hospital. . . . and how originally he wanted to be an architect.  He had a very quiet way about him.  He was utterly charming.  I could see why women liked him so much.” 

Garfield pushed good health, not health plan 

Dr. Garfield didn’t mind that she and her husband were not members of the Permanente Health Plan. In the 1970s when Jeanne mentioned to him that she and Joe were planning a trip to Europe, he insisted that they have a medical checkup before they leave.  “You cannot go until you have a ‘multiphasic,’” he said. 

The multiphasic program was basically a battery of screening tests that was offered to Kaiser Permanente members. The advantage was that in a short period of time, with minimal inconvenience, a patient could get a complete health examination. Sidney told them that if they went through the multiphasic examination before they left, they could leave the country knowing that they were in good health. 

Garfield arranged simultaneous appointments for the couple at the Oakland Kaiser Permanente hospital. “Of course, my husband went one way and I went the other . . . Sid personally took me through the whole multiphasic. We’d have little stops: open a door and go in and there’d be cake and cookies and a cup of coffee.  It was the most wonderful way to get all these physicals done and over with.” 

Garfield as architect and planner collaborated with Wallin 

She remembered another one of the Garfield innovations she’d seen that afternoon: colored lines painted on the medical center floors to help patients find their way easily from one test station to the next. “Well, I thought it was fantastic, following the lines.  He told me how he’d invented all this stuff. 

“Then he showed me through the whole hospital and how he designed the rooms to be between the central corridors and the outside ones off of the center corridors.  It was so charming of him to share this with me, and you could tell the great pride he had in it.  Great pride. I felt very honored,” she related. 

In the mid-1950s, Dr. Garfield collaborated with Medical Director Wallin on the design of the 56-bed Harbor Hospital in Harbor City.  When membership grew, Wallin and Garfield worked together to plan that hospital’s expansions.  In the early 1960s, the two men again collaborated to plan and launch the new Bellflower service area, including the layout of the hospital, the budgeting and selection of the 60-physician staff. 

In 1966, when the health plan took over the financially troubled San Diego Community Health Association, Wallin became the founding medical director there.  Dr. Wallin served on the board of the Southern Permanente Medical Group until 1973. He stayed on in San Diego as a member of the staff there for several more years until he moved to the Bay Area. 

When Jeanne met and married Dr. Wallin, she took great pride that Buck had played an important part in what had become the largest private medical care program in the world. Following her death, her family paid her a high tribute, “Jeanne embraced life in both difficult and joyous times.”

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