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Group Health Cooperative holds first formal membership meeting and passes bylaws on September 4, 1946.

HistoryLink.org Essay 7409 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 4, 1946, the newly formed Group Health Cooperative holds its first formal membership meeting in downtown Seattle and passes bylaws. The preamble to the bylaws sets forth principles and objectives that will guide Group Health's future evolution, including a commitment to quality care, preventive medicine, an aggressive outreach program, the consumers' cooperative plan, physician automony, workers' rights, health education, and public health advocacy. In an oversight, the bylaws omit the principle of nondiscrimination, which will be added a few weeks later. Group Health will become one of the nation's largest consumer-directed health care organizations.

Group Health Comes to Order

The pioneering membership meeting convened in the county commissioner's chambers in Seattle's City-County Building. The founders and acting trustees of the new organization entered the meeting room to find a rather motley group of interested parties, including, according to treasurer Addison "Ad" Shoudy (1900-1993), "habitual drunks that I knew" as well as "all kinds of cripples around the hall" (Crowley, 32). Word had gotten out on the street that Group Health would accept patients regardless of previous medical condition, something not done by other medical providers.

The members passed bylaws that reflected the idealism of the organization. Co-op membership was "open to persons who believe sincerely in its purposes and who show their willingness to devote the necessary time and attention to have this cooperative function properly in accordance with democratic, cooperative principles." In joining Group Health you had to want more than cheap health care: You were becoming part of a unique social and economic community.

Membership fees and dues were in fact rather expensive for the time ($100 membership fee, plus $3 per month dues for each adult family member and $1.50 for each of the first four children -- no charge for additional children). Group Health was not a solution to the problem of health care for the poor, as was recognized at the time. The dues created a membership that comprised mainly skilled workers and professionals.

Besides discussing and passing the bylaws, the members authorized the board to conclude the purchase of the Medical Security Clinic, a physician-owned clinic in downtown Seattle, along with its aging St. Luke's Hospital on Capitol Hill (later renamed Group Health Hospital). However, the acting trustees would have to overcome considerable membership opposition before concluding this arrangement, which would enable Group Health to begin serving patients.

Group Health's Original Preamble

The preamble passed was as follows:

This organization shall endeavor:
  • To develop some of the most outstanding hospitals and medical centers to be found anywhere, with special attention to be devoted to preventive medicine.

     

  • To serve the greatest possible number of people in the Puget Sound Area upon the consumers' cooperative plan.

     

  • To place matters of medical practice under the direction of physicians on the staff employed by it and to afford strong incentive for the best possible performance on their part.

     

  • To recognize other employees of the cooperative for purposes of collective bargaining and to provide incentive, adequate compensation and fair working conditions for them.

     

  • To educate the public as to the value of the cooperative method of health protection, and to promote other projects in the interest of public health.

Sources:
Walt Crowley, To Serve the Greatest Number, A History of Group Health Cooperative of Seattle (Seattle: GHC/University of Washington Press, 1995), 32-34.


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