ABOVE: (M) Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis at Riverside General Hospital press conference with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (R) and NAACP President Bishop Dr. James Dixon (L)
Officials unveiled the construction sign at the press conference, that signals the project will start next year
Back in March 2018, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a plan to acquire and repurpose the historic Riverside General Hospital, located in Houston’s Third Ward.
Over four years after making that decision, Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis; Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; the Honorable Rashid bin Abdulla Al Dehaimi, State of Qatar Consul General—Houston; Qatar officials; Radhika Kudchadkar, Director of Harris County Public Health’s Office of Planning & Innovation; Third Ward Community Leader Carl Davis; S.H.A.P.E. Community Center Executive Director Deloyd Parker, and various health experts held a press conference to announce plans to renovate Riverside General Hospital and provide updates on services that will be available for underserved people in Third Ward and countywide.
Officials unveiled the construction sign at the press conference, that signals the project will start next year, with renovations to the hospital, nursing school, and laundry buildings.
“Riverside General Hospital is a reminder of our city’s rich, but complex history,” said Mayor Turner. “We gather for the symbolic action of installing a sign for the hospital a head of construction and renovation, but this moment ensures that Riverside Hospital is going to be preserved and provides a pathway to create community-based services. From the time it opened its doors as the Houston Negro Hospital in the 1920s to serve Black patients and their families, this location has aways been sacred ground with a story worth telling and history worthy of preserving.”
Back in 2020, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to relocate Harris County Public Health (HCPH) to Riverside General Hospital, recognizing the need to have essential healthcare services centrally located to better serve the public. In addition to Public Health, the plan also calls for the Harris Center, Lone Star Circle of Care, and Harris Health System to move operations to Riverside Hospital at 3204 Ennis Street.
“I am grateful to know that soon the legacy of care will live on now that the County successfully purchased this site and is investing in revitalization efforts,” said Commissioner Ellis. “The County’s planning efforts and generous donations from the Houston Endowment Inc. and the Qatar Harvey Fund have allowed us to breathe new life into Riverside and provide improved health services to the public.”
According to Commissioner Ellis, these health care organizations will work together at the site to provide much needed primary and specialty care to the Third Ward community and to the residents of Harris County and will afford Public Health adequate space to operate at the historic Riverside General Hospital site.
In 2018, the Houston Endowment provided Harris County with a $5.3 million grant to purchase Riverside General Hospital, along with a $2.5 million grant to Harris County from QHF, which the State of Qatar created to administer a $30 million gift from the country to support long-term recovery of Southeast Texas following the devasting Hurricane Harvey storm in 2017. Medical facilities in the Third Ward were damaged as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which severely reduced healthcare services and support to the area.
Work at the Riverside General Hospital complex, which will be operated by HCPH, includes restoring the hospital building built in 1926, making it part of the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the Houston Negro School of Nursing building and laundry room will be renovated.
In Phase II, plans also include construction of a state-of-art building for HCPH. The building will give the community access to additional care services and house HCPH administrative offices.
The complex will be the headquarters for Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency (ACCESS) Harris County—a program Commissioners Court created last year that works to improve outcomes for vulnerable individuals through a multi-interdepartmental disciplinary team or care coordination team. The team will focus on supporting clients holistically, addressing multiple needs that ensure better outcomes and greater stability.
Through ACCESS Harris, HCPH will partner with other Harris County Departments and non-County organizations. HCPH will lead to provide care for the public health needs of the community, while simultaneously connecting recipients to services from ACCESS partners.
Services planned for the site include dental care, childhood vaccinations, flu shots, obesity reduction, asthma management, diabetes prevention, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services, and maternal and infant health.
“As we’ve seen with maternal health disparities, from the time a person of color is in their mother’s womb, they are on the wrong side of a bad statistic,” said Commissioner Ellis. “After being born, it is food insecurity, underfunded schools, inadequate housing, barriers to opportunity, lack of access to quality health care, and so on. But in Harris County, we are working to end those disparities, and it will all happen right here, where we’ll bring many of the County’s public health and safety-net programs to the site under one roof.”
The origins of Riverside General Hospital go as far back as 1918.
In the early 1900s, a group of Black doctors solicited support for a new hospital to be established in Houston’s historic Third Ward with the purpose of serving patients who would otherwise never been treated elsewhere due to either financial hardships or racial reasons. Upon hearing about this need, Joseph S. Cullinan, Houston philanthropist and founder of the Texas Company, established a fund for hospital construction in 1918 in honor of his son John Halm Cullinan, a World War I casualty, and in gratitude to the Black soldiers who tended his son before he died.
The city of Houston donated land for Houston Negro Hospital and the group of doctors—Rupert O. Roett, Charles Jackson, Benjamin J. Covington, Henry E. Lee, and F. F. Stone—were able to begin development of the Houston Negro Hospital in 1925 as a result of the philanthropic donation from Cullinan.
The hospital was dedicated on June 19, 1926, and officially opened in July 1927, as Houston Negro Hospital—having the distinction as the first nonprofit health-care facility in Houston for African Americans. The hospital was staffed with all Black physicians, had an all-Black board of directors and many of the first doctors employed at the hospital were exemplary leaders in medicine and in overcoming racial discrimination. The nursing school opened in 1931.
For nearly a century, Riverside General Hospital acted as a leader in offering quality medical care for families, friends, neighbors, and visitors.