Photo of Homer G. Phillips Hospital staff for editorial

Homer G. Phillips Hospital staff, including Dr. William H. Sinkler Jr. wearing the hat and Dr. Frank Richards with his hand on the mailbox.

“I [Dr. Will Ross} got a call from (then-St. Louis mayor) Lyda Krewson, who agreed that the name was chosen to placate the African-American community and get ready buy-in,” Ross said. “She thought it was culturally insensitive.”

The “buy-in” in question relates to much more than developer Paul McKee’s proposed medical facility – which, to be clear, will start as nothing more than a three-bed urgent care facility. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has approved nearly $8 million in incentives for this modest development. This is in addition to hundreds of millions of state and city tax incentives for McKee’s much-prolonged NorthSide Regeneration project, of which the urgent care center (and, purportedly, eventually a hospital) would form a part.

“The Homer G. Phillips Nursing Alumni Association called me,” Ross said, “and were also indignant that the name was appropriated without community input.” 

Here is some more of the good advice that Ross delivered to McKee in his letter, along with a history lesson.

“The legendary Homer G. Phillips Hospital in the Ville neighborhood was a cultural icon, the pride of not just North St. Louis but our entire community. It achieved the status of one of the most influential Black hospitals in the country during its tenure from 1937 to 1979. It was a magnificent edifice, an architectural masterpiece, and a place of physical, mental and spiritual healing for generations of African American St. Louisans. It trained the best and brightest physicians, nurses and allied health professionals in the country,” Ross wrote to McKee.

“It should have never closed; the racially motivated effort that led to its closure tore apart the African American community and left a gaping cultural wound that will take more generations to heal. Please do not abuse the legacy of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital with this paternalistic approach to placate the African-American community. This whitewashing of history is truly disrespectful.”

—Will Ross, MD, MPH. Associate Dean for Diversity at Washington University School of Medicine and co-author of a book on Homer G. Phillips Hospital’s legacy

Excerpted from a report by former managing editor Chris King in the Jan. 2, 2020 edition of The St. Louis American.

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Developer Paul McKee has a bad record when it comes to keeping his word. He once promised the people of north St. Louis billions of dollars in investments for new homes, offices and retail spaces. That didn’t happen. He promised, along with then-Mayor Francis Slay, that eminent domain would not be used to take property in his Northside Regeneration footprint. That promise was also broken.

Most recently, in his significantly scaled-down version of Northside Regeneration’s development plans, he promised a hospital to the people of north St. Louis. To date, that hospital — whose scale has shrunk to a more modest three-bed clinic — also hasn’t happened yet. But that’s just fine to some Black St. Louisans, who find the proposed name insulting.

McKee wants to call the clinic the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the same name as one of the most important institutions in the city’s African-American history. At one time, Homer G. Phillips Hospital was ranked among the 10 largest general hospitals in America. From 1937 to 1979, the hospital, which operated at 2601 N. Whittier Street in the historic Ville neighborhood, primarily served the needs of St. Louis’ Black citizens. In fact, until city hospitals were desegregated in 1955, it was the only hospital for Black St. Louisans.

City leaders should not allow McKee to appropriate the legacy of Homer G. Phillips Hospital for his development. The name has a special place in St. Louis history — one that deserves to be protected.

—Excerpted from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial dated Jan. 7, 2020

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Any community, particularly a community like Black St. Louis that has had to endure historic efforts to diminish its value and self-worth, must not have the glorification of one of its inspirational individuals, leaders and institutions subverted.

This newspaper is not taking a stand against this undergoing north side health facility itself, but rather the insensitivity  shown by the developer toward a community’s concern for his appropriation of the name of one of the Black community’s most hallowed and esteemed institutions. How dare someone from outside the Black community question the legitimacy of our affection for an important part of our history?

The Black community, rightly, is sensitive about how its cherished achievements are handled by non-Black people. Even if there is no negative intent, these actions are often seen as an extension of a perennial disrespect that is deeply ingrained in the fabric of this country.

There are many distinguished medical professionals in the rich history of African Americans in the medical profession who have served the St. Louis Black community, including Dr. William H. Sinkler. He was named medical director of Homer G. Phillips Hospital in 1941 at the age of 35. (He passed away at only age 54.) An outstanding hospital administrator, highly-respected surgeon and also an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Sinkler is remembered for his pioneering efforts to provide African American physicians with first-rate postgraduate medical training. He believed that caring for patients was a privilege requiring physicians to treat their patients with excellent medical care and to always treat them with dignity, empathy and respect.

We feel that Paul McKee is being more than insensitive and disrespectful. 

It is offensive and unacceptable for McKee--a developer without a broad consensus from the Black community--to ignore the legitimate outrage felt by many about an action taken by him in North St. Louis that disregards the expressed concerns, even outrage, about his decision. 

Maybe McKee is misinformed, but nevertheless, the Black community should demand accountability for this affront from him and any others who are part of this enterprise. Obviously he feels that this discontent will be of no consequence over time. We need to prove him wrong.

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