By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor

Kaiser Permanente is making good use of the 2022 Tournament of Roses parade theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” by celebrating the dedication and talents of health care heroes who are serving the community during the pandemic.

The 75-year-old health care and coverage provider’s float is themed “A Healthier Future.” 

“It seemed like a no-brainer this year to thank and honor our health care heroes,” said Julie Miller-Phipps, president, Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii, health plan and hospitals.

“This is our 16th year of participating in the Rose Parade. It’s a labor of love for so many people in our organization. With the theme of ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.,’ we thought we could dovetail off of that with ‘A Healthier Future.’ It’s just so apropos for where we’re at, the challenges that we’ve overcome with COVID, and the challenges that are ahead.”

Miller-Phipps understands that the phrase “health care heroes” is frequently bandied about, but she and her staff contend it’s still true — they’re heroes.

“People are coming together for a calling in their life and using the expertise for a greater good,” she said.

That mantra will come through in the float as well. It features four children who are exploring, imagining and daring to dream about making a difference one day in the world.

“It’s funny,” she said. “At a very young age for myself, between ages 5 to 10 years old, I really discovered that I was super interested in hospitals and health care.

“I spent a lot of time in the ER. I was a very hyperactive child. It dovetails off of kids and creating that spark in them to think of what they do when they can grow up and how they can make a difference.”

The float carries four scenarios. With the childhood dream of becoming a nurse or doctor, one child is wearing a stethoscope and caring for a Teddy bear.

The second reads a book that reflects the researchers who uncover medical advances, such as the COVID-19 vaccination, which Miller-Phipps called “an extraordinary advancement for researchers and unsung heroes.”

Another child has a telescope, which honors innovation centers, of which Kaiser Permanente has two.

A child in a lab coat with scientific instruments nearby represents future health care workers or professionals. The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena matriculated its inaugural class of 50 students in July 2020.

“We have the second class of students who have started medical school there on the campus who are super excited and working toward being the physicians of the future,” Miller-Phipps said.

“It’s a nod to students all over who want to go into health care and make a better world. The float is just a beautiful encapsulation of so many other people who work in health care and devote their life to it.”

Joining the cast on the float is Booster the Bear, who serves as a thank-you to the millions of people who received vaccines, she said, adding Kaiser Permanente has administered 3.7 million vaccinations in Southern California.

“That’s something to be proud of,” she said. “We want to continue to encourage people to get their boosters and having kids vaccinated when they’re eligible. The float riders are Kaiser Permanente people who are part of our research team — scientists, nurses, doctors, front-line staff — who are acting in the roles of the children on the float. They all started with dreams of wanting to work in health care. This was a chance to do something out of the ordinary that celebrates our profession.”

The “out walkers” — those around the float — are front-line heroes who served the community during the last 20 months of the pandemic.

“They were chosen to represent not only Kaiser Permanente but all of health care,” she said. “The message I want to show is we come together and create a healthier future. We’re super excited about it. This one has special meaning for us.

“They didn’t have the parade last year. For us, to be able to come together and be out and showcasing what I think will be a better world in terms of the pandemic going forward is something that’s going to be fun.”

Kaiser Permanente’s past float entries have received numerous awards, including the Wrigley Legacy Award (2020) for most outstanding display of floral presentation, float design and entertainment; the Grand Marshal’s Trophy (2016); Judges’ Special Trophy for the most spectacular in showmanship and dramatic impact (2015); Theme Trophy for excellence in presenting the parade theme (2013); Lathrop K. Leishman Trophy for the most beautiful float entry from a noncommercial sponsor (2014, 2012); Director’s Trophy for most artistic merit in design and floral presentation (2011, 2008, 2006); Extraordinaire Trophy for the “most spectacular” float longer than 55 feet (2010); Tournament Special Trophy for exceptional merit in multiple classifications (2009); and President’s Trophy for most effective floral use and presentation (2007).

For the full 16 years, Kaiser Permanente has worked with Fiesta Parade Floats, the most decorated float builder in the Rose Parade, she said.

“We’re so proud to be a part of this sort of national world celebration on this stage, to be able to inspire people and give some hope for a better future,” she said. “We’re starting to see a little bit of a creep up with COVID. I hope that doesn’t put us back to where we were last year.

“I think we’re going to get a better handle on it as time goes on. The parade is a great way for the world together to celebrate some hope and joy in the future, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”