March 23, 2010

A design to match the miracles

Bryan Culp, Heritage writer

I recently attended a reception to celebrate the opening of the new Kaiser Foundation Research Center Hospital in Vallejo, California.  This hospital is Kaiser Permanente’s National Center of Excellence for people with disabilities, and it offers unique care to patients recovering from trauma, stroke, neuromuscular and orthopedic diseases.

“Many will rise and walk,” I remembered as I entered the new therapeutic gym, which is the at the heart of this facility because every new patient aspires first to return to mobility. The memorable phrase, evocative of miracle stories, was the title given to an article penned by science writer Paul de Kruif, who described for readers of Reader’s Digest in 1946 Dr. Herman Kabat’s experimental treatments for the disabling effects of polio.  Kabat offered a glimmer of hope to many afflicted with polio and neuromuscular diseases, Henry Kaiser, Jr., being one of them.

I walked from the gym into the open air of the roof-top terrace where patients on the path to mobility learn the pavement surfaces, curbs and cutouts a pedestrian encounters in daily routines.  I admired the recently installed, vintage 1953 Kaiser Manhattan in which patients learn how to transfer from a wheelchair to a car and how to maneuver in the confined space of an automobile.

That's Tom Debley, Director of Heritage Resources, with the 1953 Kaiser Manhattan transfer vehicle.

For years the hospital had used a nondescript Chevrolet for this purpose.  But when the new hospital was in the design phase, the planners consulted with Heritage Resources with the idea to build-in to the new facility signature artifacts.  The Kaiser Manhattan was an ideal choice for a transfer vehicle.  The center’s therapists knew its heft and spaciousness offered real advantages, and true to history, the marquee had once served in this capacity in the hospital’s founding era. This particular example, with 76,000 miles on the odometer, was located in Arizona bearing a California heritage plate that read, “Henry.” After battery and oil were removed for safety, and adjustable seats were installed to aid patient training, the car was lifted into place on the roof terrace.

I can say confidently, having seen this new hospital close-up, that the mirror-like chrome on the magnificent Manhattan reflects more than past glory.  It reflects this stunning and entirely new facility that speaks to every patient, past and present, in so many words saying:  “We believe in you!”