About Kaiser Permanente | Heritage
March 21, 2007
Learning from Yesterday
Kaiser Permanente’s oral history project delves into the organization's rich past
Oakland, Calif.—The Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Oral History initiative hopes to meet the challenges of the future by learning lessons from the past. Working in partnership with the Kaiser Permanente, the University of California at Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) this month launched a new Web site containing a year’s worth of interviews with figures from Kaiser Permanente’s rich history, and that is just the beginning.
The ambitious five-year project is designed to create a detailed history of Kaiser Permanente since 1970. The independent project is exploring such topics as Kaiser Permanente’s role in medicine and medical research, care delivery, along with the politics, business and the economics of health care.
The research is being funded by a grant from KP’s Heritage Resources Department and is expected to involve interviews with nearly 100 current and former KP employees by the time the project is concluded in 2010.
According to project leaders, understanding the role that organizational values have played in KP’s history and the way in which values shape debates on KP's future direction are among the project's objectives.
"At the heart of the story is the everyday relation of clinical practice, research, government relations and community benefit activities that have developed over the years," says UC Berkeley history professor Richard Candida Smith, PhD, director of ROHO. Martin Meeker, PhD, an academic specialist at ROHO is the principal interviewer.
Plans for a project documenting KP history after 1970 began with lengthy conversations involving leadership and staff from KP’s national, Northern California, Southern California and Northwest organizations. These advisers were asked to identify the organization’s most important stories since 1970. Five major themes were developed as a result of the conversations, and these themes will serve as the basis for interviews going forward until 2010. The themes include:
- Evidence-based Medicine
- Kaiser Permanente Core Values
- Diversity and Culturally Competent Care
- Government Regulation and Public Policy
- A Viable Economic Model
After 1960, KP founder Sidney R. Garfield began to challenge the organization to transform from a sick-care into a health-care provider. He had a big idea to sell, and he was neither gentle nor diplomatic as he went about it. Garfield was convinced that without the shift, KP could not survive as an innovator in medicine.
Exploration of the initial oral history topic, evidence-based medicine, will involve identifying and examining important sites within KP where Garfield’s ideas were picked up, tested, made practical, and then embedded in the organization. One of KP’s historic strengths has been its relative decentralization. This encouraged a broad range of responses from the different regions, each of which contributed to how the organization developed its philosophy of "evidence-based medicine."
The five-year oral history project will build on information collected in mid-1980s, when 19 Kaiser Permanente pioneers were interviewed. The group included both physicians and administrators from the California, Ohio and the Northwest regions. Several other early KP leaders were interviewed in the 1990s, and an interview with an early member of the KP nursing program was interviewed in 2002. A total of 162 hours of conversation was recorded and transcribed. With more than half of those early KP employees now deceased, their recollections provide a valuable historical resource that can not now be replaced or duplicated.