It now has been three weeks since Dr. Will Ross, a professor and senior leader at Washington University School of Medicine and historian of Homer G. Philips Hospital, wrote to developer Paul McKee Jr. about McKee’s announced decision to name a new three-bed urgent care center after the historic black hospital. McKee – who would know Ross well from his years chairing the board at BJC HealthCare – has ignored him. McKee also ignored this newspaper when we asked for his response for a news story about Ross’ concerns, which are widely shared by St. Louis’ black community. McKee will not be able to continue ignoring these concerns, which we share deeply and with increasing exasperation at this offensive decision.
“If you want to get feedback on what to name this new medical facility, and then ask the African American community, it will not be difficult to assemble a focus group and get some candid perspectives,” Ross wrote to McKee. We have a spoiler alert for McKee. The outcome of such a focus group would be outraged African Americans telling a white developer – whose every project in North St. Louis has been delayed or remains merely a set of pretty drawings and verbiage – that he is not going to name a three-bed urgent care center after an historic black hospital that at its peak accommodated 600 patients, was ranked in the 10 largest hospitals in the country, and was one of only two institutions where black doctors could go for training, as retired Congressman Bill Clay wrote for us this week.
We reached out to McKee, in fact, before Ross wrote his letter and warned him that he was making a terrible mistake. At that point, we were assured that we weren’t seeing the larger picture. The three-bed urgent care center, we were told, is just the beginning of what will one day be a real hospital. McKee has plastered some pretty pictures of this projected hospital on the chain link fence around its proposed future site. Even McKee’s projection of a future hospital does not begin to reach the stature of a facility worthy of this historic name, and the name is not McKee’s to bestow upon it. But the notion becomes even more insulting and offensive when one considers that for many years (now, for a decade and a half) McKee has flashed pretty pictures of many things he has not actually built in North St. Louis.
Further, when we reached out to McKee, we were told that the idea for the name was provisional – even though, by then, the name had been spoken on the floor of the Board of Aldermen by McKee’s enabling Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard. It was after that false assurance that the pretty pictures accompanied by the name that doesn’t belong to McKee went up in public view, providing further evidence that he is not to be trusted.
From the beginning of McKee’s project, we have given him the benefits of more doubts than almost anyone in St. Louis. We have argued that assembling land in North St. Louis, as McKee had the courage and vision to do, was essential to enticing a transformative project of scale to these beleaguered neighborhoods. Indeed – as we were early in reminding everyone – without McKee’s land assemblage, the NGA West headquarters and all of its jobs and earnings tax revenue would be leaving the City of St. Louis, with potentially disastrous results.
If McKee believes so much in the future of the North Side, and it’s beyond doubt that he is both an investor and a believer, then we have a much better name for this three-bed urgent care center: North Side Urgent Care. The North Side urgently needs more urgent care. If McKee’s development provides it, he would be welcomed and congratulated. However, if he proceeds to blaspheme the name of Homer G. Philips Hospital with a three-bed urgent care center and some pretty pictures, then we can assure him that he will regret his persistence in this terrible, deeply offensive decision.