In the Community
April 11, 2011
Kaiser Permanente Employees, Physicians Return to Gulf Coast for the Fifth Year
Group Renews Annual Commitment to Help Communities Rebuild
Six years have passed since hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the communities of the Gulf Coast and captured the attention of people around the world, yet many of the storm’s devastating effects continue to be felt.
Fulfilling a long-term commitment Kaiser Permanente made in 2005 to help the people of the Gulf Coast rebuild, 60 physicians and employees headed to the region in April to begin a two-week service project. Throughout the month, new stories and images of their experiences will be refreshed on Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit website.
“When devastation hits any community, whether it’s in a Kaiser Permanente region or not, it deeply affects our physicians, employees and our members,” commented Raymond Baxter, PhD, senior vice president, Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. “Community Benefit is an integral part of the organization’s mission and strategy and wanting to do the right thing comes naturally to the employees and physicians of Kaiser Permanente. We are honored to have a role in helping the people of the Gulf Coast rebuild their communities and their lives.”
Kaiser Permanente has a long and deep history with the Gulf Coast region. A multigenerational connection was established years ago, through the organization’s workforce and health plan members, many of whom migrated from the region to seek work in Kaiser Industry's Richmond, Calif. and Portland, Ore. shipyards during World War II.
Jackie Jones, director of medical staff services for the Kaiser Permanente San Diego service area, lived in Saint Bernard Parish, New Orleans, for many years. She watched her former home and neighborhood drown underwater. Jones returns with the Kaiser Permanente team for a third time, this time as a project leader.
“The first year I went back, I must have cried all the way from the airport to Biloxi. This was once my home and where many of my family and friends call home,” Jones said. “There was just utter silence — no cars, no kids, no dogs, and there were literally playgrounds overturned.”
The silence has now been replaced by the bustling of cars and families who are breathing life into the cities of the Gulf Coast once again. However, a lot of work still needs to be done, as many of the former residents haven’t returned, explained Cathy Puett, executive director of HandsOn New Orleans, a nonprofit that facilitates volunteerism.
“One of our biggest challenges is communicating to the nation that our city is both up and running again and yet still heavily devastated in many ways. The French Quarter, the business district, and other popular New Orleans’ cultural assets are back; but just blocks away, neighborhoods are still struggling to rebuild,” Puett said. “Kaiser Permanente is a very special partner to us. For the fifth year we are working with their volunteers who have positively impacted our lives and neighborhoods.”
Partnering with Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi and HandsOn New Orleans, Kaiser Permanente’s 60-person contingent, split into two teams, includes physicians and other caregivers, and non-medical employees.
Among the work the Kaiser Permanente New Orleans’ team will be doing includes rebuilding wheelchair ramps, building a greenhouse for a community farmers’ market, and planting gardens at local schools.
More than 1,600 Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians applied for the chance to be part of the 2011 volunteer team.
“It’s a true testament to the heart and soul of the physicians and employees at Kaiser Permanente,” said John Edmiston, national manager of Community Engagement. “I would have been proud to take many more of our applicants. Narrowing that list down to 60 was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
Each of the volunteers who served on this project in 2010 and 2011 has committed to lead a community service project in his or her own community, applying the skills and knowledge acquired from the Gulf Coast service experience.
Vicki Guinn, learning and organization development consultant in Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest Region, wasted no time following through on her commitment after returning from the Gulf Coast in 2010. Guinn partnered with an all-girls school in Portland, Ore. to help create a mentoring program.
“Instead of donating money or going to a fundraising dinner, I wanted do something hands-on in my own community and get involved; something impactful and where I could see that I’ve made a difference,” Guinn said.
“If I could offer any words of advice for our Kaiser Permanente volunteers heading there now, it’s to be prepared to be humbled,” Guinn added. “We take so much for granted and need to be reminded of that. Oh, and the mosquitoes. They surely need to be prepared for those.”
View the volunteers’ interviews and experiences on the Gulf Coast Rebuilding Project page on the Community Benefit website.