Each Kaiser Permanente Region Has Its Own Distinct History

Site of new Bess Kaiser Hospital, with Ernest Saward and Sam Hufford
Site of new Bess Kaiser Hospital, with Ernest Saward, MD, and Sam G. Hufford (regional manager), 1956. Location: Oregon

Although each region has its own distinct history, this 70th anniversary is the unifying foundation for all of Kaiser Permanente.


After caring for shipyard workers and their families during World War II, the Northern Permanente Foundation Health Plan enrollment opened to the community in 1947 with an outpatient facility across the Columbia River from the closed Kaiser Shipyards, drawing members from the city of Portland, Oregon.

The Northwest Region has been at the forefront of many innovative and successful health care practices.

  • In 1964, it launched the Center for Health Research to advance evidence-based medicine.
  • In 1974, it became the only Kaiser Permanente region to provide prepaid dental services.
  • In 1991, the Northwest Region started Kaiser-on-the-Job, a workers’ compensation program that decreased injured employees’ lost work time and reduced medical costs related to workplace injuries, and which has since spread to all regions.

Northern California

The flagship Oakland hospital, opened on August 21, 1942, and expanded constantly to meet demand during World War II. The Richmond Field hospital opened nine days later. The health plan was opened to public enrollment in July 1945.

Labor unions were prominent among the early member groups of the now-public plan. In 1953, the fledgling health plan opened state-of-the-art hospitals in San Francisco and Walnut Creek. These “dream” hospitals were designed by founding physician Sidney Garfield, MD, and boasted such amenities as separate corridors for visitors and staff; decentralized nursing stations, with one for every four rooms (one nurse per eight patients); patient rooms with an individual lavatory with hot, cold and iced water; and a “baby in a drawer” — a sliding bassinet that let a tired mom pass her newborn through for care in the nursery.

Southern California

Expansion in Southern California took off in 1949, when International Longshore and Warehouse Union leader Harry Bridges wanted a hospital in the San Pedro area where there was a high concentration of his members.

It was his promise of such a large and stable membership that convinced the health plan leaders to expand. Bridges proved as good as his word, and Kaiser became the sole supplier of medical care to ILWU’s 6,000 West Coast members.

The separate Southern California Permanente Group was established in 1950. In 1951, the Permanente Health Plan services expanded to include the 15,000 members of the Retail Clerks Union Local 770 in Los Angeles, at the time the largest local in the country.


1958 Ala Moana Hospital Lobby Date Original: 1958 Location: Hawaii

Ala Moana Hospital Lobby, 1958
Location: Hawaii

The Hawaii Region opened in 1958, before the territory became a state, with strong support of the local building and construction trades, which benefited strongly from Henry J. Kaiser’s massive resort hotel and housing projects.

In 1958 Kaiser broke ground on the 10-story, 150-bed Honolulu Medical Center at Ala Moana Boulevard on the waterfront overlooking Ala Wai Yacht harbor near Waikiki Beach. By 1969 the plan had grown sufficiently successful that the program extended service to the island of Maui.


Colorado became a Kaiser Permanente region in 1969, following requests for the plan from a group of local labor, medical, university and government employees.

John Boardman, Colorado Regional Manager Date Original: 1969 Location: Colorado

John Boardman, Colorado Regional Manager, 1969
Location: Colorado

The United Mine Workers had a regional headquarters in Denver, and Kaiser Permanente had longstanding relations with the UMW through the Kabat Kaiser Institute (later known as the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center) and through the Kaiser Foundation Utah Hospitals, which was funded from a donation from the United States Steel Company to Kaiser Foundation Hospitals as part of a settlement of a Utah coal mining strike.


Kaiser Permanente expanded to Georgia in 1985. Its first medical director was Harper Gaston, MD, a Georgia native and Northern California physician who was proud to return home and serve the initial 265 members.

In 1988, the region experienced dramatic growth when the State of Georgia came aboard as a major account and Kaiser Permanente acquired the Maxicare Georgia HMO. Within a year, the region celebrated its 100,000th-member milestone.

Mid-Atlantic States

In 1980, Kaiser Permanente acquired the Georgetown Community Health Plan, and began working with existing community hospitals. As a national health plan, Kaiser Permanente saw locating in the Washington, D.C. area as providing high visibility for model health care legislation.

  • The effort was successful: In 1992 Jim Doherty, president of the Group Health Association of America, the professional organization for HMOs, remarked, “Kaiser Permanente’s expansion to Washington, D.C. did more for the HMO movement than any single act since the HMO Act of 1973.”
  • In 1984, the region opened its first pharmacy and officially changed its name to Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States. In 1996, it acquired Humana Group Health, Inc., one of the country’s oldest HMOs.