August 10, 2016

The story of the color coded files

Kaiser Walnut Creek Hospital, 1953

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

Jack Chapman photo and caption, KaiPerm Kapsul, 1958-06
Jack Chapman, KaiPerm Kapsul, June 1958.

Jack Chapman was hired in 1951 by Kaiser Permanente physician founder Sidney Garfield to be the assistant administrator of Oakland Hospital. Chapman personally supervised the construction of our Walnut Creek Hospital for Henry J. Kaiser and became the hospital’s first administrator. He was also a keeper of Kaiser Permanente’s heritage and a master teller of corporate folklore to generations of employees.

When Jack died in 1999 a Kaiser Permanente obituary called him "a legend in his own time." This is one of his stories captured in an interview, about the brand-new Walnut Creek Hospital that opened September 15, 1953, and the open house held August 23–30.

Sunday morning, it was about 5 o'clock in the morning and the phone rings.
"Yes, Mr. Kaiser."
He'd call you all times, time did not mean anything to him.
"We're having a meeting at 8 o'clock down at the Clinic."
"Okay, yes, right, you bet, Mr. Kaiser."
"I want you to be there."
So, Wally Cook, Fred Pellegrin and myself, yeah, that was just the three of us. Well, we got there. Sidney is there, Ale Kaiser [Henry J. Kaiser’s second wife Alyce, whom he married in 1951] and Helen [Helen Chester Peterson, Dr. Garfield’s second wife, whom he’d married less than 3 months earlier].
"Jack, what's this filing system you have concocted here?”
I said, "It's called the terminal digit system. Filed by the rear numbers. We have been filing by numbers, Mr. Kaiser, in sequence. But, God, if you misfile, how do you find the thing. This way, you always have the last 2 numbers and misfiling is very rare. Some people will invert them, a 90 can become a 09 or sometimes people will put them upside down like 06 or 09 but at least you can go to those bins and, you know have a pretty good chance of finding the record."
Nurse filing paper medical records, Kaiser Permanente Oakland hospital, circa 1965.
Ale said, "Well, I don't think that is any good at all."
Ale then says, "We don't want to treat our members as numbers."
I tried to argue, you know, and I got about from here to the end of that desk and that was the end of it.
"It is going to alphabetical."
"Alphabetical, oh God," I said.
But anyway, we had color codes and then you had to understand what each color meant, that that was an A color and a B color and a D color or whatever. I can recall that incident so well, oh my goodness gracious. Well, it was kind of funny. Finally, the hospital was really going along and we were getting ready to open ... we got the whole thing dolled up. We had an open house here like you've never seen in your life. We went on for 2 weeks, every night. 35,000 people marched through this hospital.