January 9, 2014

Avram Yedidia: Handling loads of steel like books in a library

Avram Yedidia handled steel in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards like books in a library.

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

Imagine the chaos of a thousand boxcars of steel destined for ship production sitting in and around Richmond, California, in 1942. How could managers unravel the mess and get the far-flung steel to the right place at the right time and avoid production delays?

The solution was obvious to Avram Yedidia, a native of Israel who later made his mark as a Kaiser Permanente consultant and economist: Handle steel like books in a library.

Yedidia earned a bachelor's degree in education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and did graduate work in economics and philosophy at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1937 he learned library science by the seat of his pants so he could lead efforts to archive the huge Adolph Sutro special collection in San Francisco.

The Sutro Collection, part of the California State Library system, is made up of documents chronicling the Mexican Revolution and the British “poor laws” of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Yedidia applied the principles of library science to create an effective process for unloading, storing and delivering steel to the job sites. He was a shipyard expediter, charged with ensuring timely deliveries of equipment and materials to meet the “just in time” production pace of the yards, a task made especially challenging by wartime shortages.

In 1945 he was hired by Dr. Sidney Garfield as a representative for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, responsible for signing up groups of workers and their dependents. Between 1957 and 1982 Yedidia was a consultant for the Kaiser health plans in Northern California, Hawaii, and Ohio, as well as other health maintenance organizations (HMOs) nationwide. He was a champion of the “dual choice” concept, asserting that wherever the Kaiser plan was offered another medical plan must be available to employees.

For Yedidia, this was a carryover from shipyard days when he let his 400 employees know they were not required to sign up for the Kaiser Health Plan.

“Tell them it is voluntary,” Yedidia told the supervisors who presented the plan to workers. The plan cost 50 cents a week ($2.60 a month). They all signed up within 24 hours, except one Danish woman. “She didn’t understand what it was. Once she understood, she signed up too,” Yedidia recounted in his oral history.

Yedidia was a graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and studied economics and philosophy as a postgraduate at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1959, he established his own consulting service in the organization of health care services and advised Kaiser Permanente for the next 31 years. Yedidia and his son Peter consulted with the program on the organization of geriatric services in the late 1980s.

Yedidia’s influence on health care financing and delivery extended beyond Kaiser Permanente. He earned an international reputation as a medical economist and a consultant on employee health benefits.

He was instrumental in the establishment of the Community Health Foundation in Cleveland, which later became Kaiser Permanente’s Ohio Region. He was also involved with the reorganization of the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York.

Yedidia passed away in 1990.