Today's mail brought us a copy of the latest book on the history of Kaiser Permanente and the development of prepaid health care, Tom Debley's The Story of Sidney R. Garfield: the visionary who turned sick care into health care (Permanente Press, 2009).
Debley, Director of Heritage Resources for KP, visited OHSU back in January of 2006 to give a talk on the history of Kaiser for the History of Medicine Society Lecture Series (streaming video available on our lectures page). This new book "represents the first time that Garfield's story has been told in a form that puts him in the foreground and Henry Kaiser in the background," and while Debley demurs that the work is "not, however, a definitive biography," it is nonetheless a very informative and very readable narrative of Garfield's life and accomplishments.
A 1928 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Garfield was at first a reluctant physician: he reportedly cried in disappointment when his parents insisted he attend medical school. Internships at Michael Reese and the Los Angeles County General Hospital, plus a three-year surgical residency, dropped him out into the medical workforce in 1933, the height of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, the plucky young man decided to open a 12-bed hospital in the Mojave Desert east of L.A., betting that the workers brought to the area by construction projects would need medical care. His bet finally paid off when the largest insurer of the workmen, the Industrial Indemnity Exchange, offered to prepay for health care. The rest, as they say, was history.
No history of KP would be complete without mention of Portland and the Kaiser shipyards--and the Portland medical community's NIMBY attitude to the ideas of prepayment and group medical insurance. Debley quotes one unnamed "leader of the [Portland] community physicians" who told Garfield and Kaiser "to go across the Columbia River to the small town of Vancouver, Washington: 'Do what you want over there. Nobody cares what you do.'" Ah, the good old days.
The book is amply illustrated with photographs from the KP archives, and really is a page-turner. After cataloging, the OHSU copy will be headed for the PNW Archives Collection. You can check for a copy in a library near you, or buy a copy online.