January 19, 2015

Flash from the past — Kaiser Permanente honored for commitment to diversity

Kaiser shipyard workers in Richmond Field Hospital lobby, circa 1943.

Kaiser Permanente has a long history of honoring and celebrating diversity. In 2004, the Martin Luther King Legacy Association and The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles presented Kaiser Permanente Southern California with the Corporate Responsibility Award in recognition of the organization's commitment to diversity.

Kaiser Permanente was honored in this case for being one of the first health care providers in the United States to have racially integrated hospitals and waiting rooms, as well as an ethnically diverse workforce, including physicians and allied health professionals.

During World War II and afterwards, Oakland’s Permanente Foundation hospital (the first in what would later be called Kaiser Permanente) was a model for equal health care treatment regardless of race. In 1946, the year after the Health Plan was opened to the public, several local policemen visited it with an eye to join. Permanente medical economist Avram Yedidia recalled the event:

“. . . The police chief said to me, ‘You know, when we walked through, I saw that you had some Negroes and whites in the same room. I don’t think we like that.’ “As I can recall, I responded, ‘Do you know this plan started that way, with blacks and whites in the shipyards, and that’s the way it goes. They worked together, and they were sick together.’ ” I told the police chief: ‘Those who don’t like it shouldn’t join the plan.’ ”

Kaiser Permanente also made history in 1954, when Raleigh Bledsoe, MD, joined the then fledgling medical group in Southern California, as the first and only African-American board certified radiologist west of the Rockies.