May 6, 2015

Celebrating Betty Runyen — Kaiser Permanente’s ‘founding nurse’

In a desert hospital during the Great Depression, Betty Runyen overcame challenges and help shaped Kaiser Permanente’s values of patient-centered care.

Betty Runyen, RN, Contractors General Hospital, circa 1936

Betty Runyen, RN, was the only permanent nurse working for Kaiser Permanente's founding physician Sidney Garfield, MD, at Contractors General Hospital at the construction site of the Colorado River Aqueduct project serving a growing Southern California, 1933-38. She had recently graduated from nursing school in Los Angeles and was eager to begin a job in her profession during the Great Depression.

Runyen did not join Dr. Garfield on his next health care project when he partnered with Henry J. Kaiser while building the Grand Coulee Dam in 1938. But Betty Runyen's skill, dedication, and compassion were significant contributors to the early formation of the comprehensive health care program that we now call Kaiser Permanente.

We honor National Nurses Week with this photo of Runyen enjoying a well-deserved moment of relaxation from caring for those workers in the remote Mojave Desert.