Kaiser Permanente Invests in the Success of Diverse Local Businesses

Feature Story
Pamela Isom (left) and Edward Navales (right) attending Kaiser Permanente Fourth Annual Supplier Forum & Awards Breakfast.
Pamela Isom and Edward Navales attending Kaiser Permanente Fourth Annual Supplier Forum & Awards Breakfast.

Edward Navales remembers his grandmother showing him the bank where she took out her first loan to start a family business. From an early age, her “old school” work ethic was instilled in him — you work hard, you get up early, you stay late, and you care for your employees. Her example inspired him when he started his own company.

For Pamela Isom, the decision to start her own business was also rooted in family. When her daughter was born prematurely, she decided to leave her career in pharmaceutical research and work from home.

Both Navales and Isom put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today — and the journey hasn’t always been easy. But with perseverance, and support from organizations like Kaiser Permanente, their companies are thriving.

‘MBA on Steroids’

Navales founded 24/7 Medstaff, a home health services and medical staffing company, after a career as a management consultant.

He loves the flexibility and opportunity that running his own company provides. However, worrying about cashflow and whether he can provide a livelihood for his employees sometimes keeps him up at night. In fact, he was looking for additional capital when Kaiser Permanente gave him the opportunity to attend the Inner City Capital Connections program.

“It was such a wonderful [experience] to be able to step outside of the company and learn from the top business schools all in the same place,” said Navales. “It was like an MBA on steroids.”

Navales came away from the ICCC program with a bold idea — to streamline his customer base by reducing the number of clients and focusing on only a few key areas where his company excels.

“Why would we do that? As a small business that seems counterintuitive,” Navales said. “Well, our team was spread thin. I needed them to be able to focus on the highest value work.”

Within a few months of attending ICCC, 24/7 Medstaff redefined its target market and realigned its operations. As a result of this strategic shift, 24/7 Medstaff significantly increased its revenue, hired more than 50 new full-time employees and is now able to match employee contributions to the company’s 401(k) retirement plan.

“I didn’t need to look for more debt,” he said. “Because of ICCC, I found the money inside our four walls. We created efficiencies that allowed us to put money back into the company and give back to the employees.”

Turning “no” into an opportunity

After 7 years of working out of her home, Isom started to grow her company, ICE Safety Solutions, when both of her daughters were in school. Today, ICE Safety Solutions employs 15 people full-time and has 40 contractors around the country helping corporations keep their employees safe — whether through first aid and disaster kits or through CPR and other training.

“It took some years for Kaiser Permanente to become a customer,” said Isom. “But when they initially said ‘no,’ they created an opportunity and provided education. It’s the whole ‘give a man a fish or teach a man to fish’ thing.”

Attending a Kaiser Permanente Supplier Diversity workshop helped Isom move her company into a lucrative new direction.

“There was a lot of talk about innovation at the (Annual Supplier Forum) event two years ago,” she said. “And I have to give credit where credit is due. That was what planted the seed in my mind of using innovative technology to scale my company.”

Isom’s innovative idea was to incorporate virtual reality into her safety trainings. “Virtual reality is immersive, powerful and saves time for the customer because it’s more effective,” she said. “You can experience what it’s really like to do CPR.”

“In the six months since we started offering a virtual reality option, business is up 26 percent,” she added. “Customers are looking for innovative and scalable solutions.”

Measuring success in human impact

Kaiser Permanente’s National Supplier Diversity program leverages the organization’s purchasing power to ensure the dollars spent by Kaiser Permanente contribute to economic and environmental health and reflect the diversity of the communities served.

ICE Safety Solutions and 24/7 Medstaff are examples of the many diverse suppliers supported by the National Supplier Diversity Program — each with its own story.

“We believe partnership with diverse businesses generates economic development and creates new jobs in the communities we serve — ultimately contributing to total health,” said Kathy Lancaster, Kaiser Permanente’s chief financial officer.

Kaiser Permanente is also proud to be the first health care provider to join the Billion Dollar Roundtable — an organization created to recognize corporations that achieved spending of least $1 billion dollars with minority and woman-owned suppliers. Since 2014, Kaiser Permanente has spent more than $1 billion annually with diverse businesses that make a sustainable impact on local economies.