|North Omaha’s Medical Desert, represented by a slide by Ira Combs, Community Liason Nurse Coordinator at University of Nebrasaka Medical Center. For more information, see his presentation.|
With a growing population for almost 100 years of Omaha’s history, North Omaha needed medical services specifically for its residents and got them. Historical directories show physicians had private offices throughout the community, lining popular streets like North 24th, North 30th, North 16th, and Ames Avenue.
Some of the healthcare providers located in North Omaha throughout its history include:
- Dr. E. L. Alexander—Physician, 1024 N. 24th St.
- Dr. Wesley Jones—Dentist, 1518 1/2 N. 24th St.
- Dr. Herbert Wiggins—Family Doctor, 1518 1/2 N. 24th St.
- Dr. G. B. Lennox—Dentist, 1602 N. 24th St.
- Dr. A. L. Hawkins—Physician, 2120 N. 24th St.
- Dr. A. A. Foster, Dr. Price Terrell and Dr. Aaron M. McMillan—Physicians, 2420 N. 24th St.
- Dr. W. W. Solomon—Physician, 3022 N. 24th St.
|An original cover banner from the April, 1915 edition of the Omaha Druggist magazine.|
These individuals are important to note because they provided services that others often wouldn’t, especially in the historically and currently segregated community of North Omaha. However, they weren’t enough. Over the course of a century, North Omaha had at least eight hospitals serving it.
The following is a short history of the hospitals of North Omaha. After it is an examination of the current hospitals and healthcare services in North Omaha, as well as a short scan of the public health crisis facing the community.
1. The People’s Hospital
- Location: N. 20th and Grace Streets
- Opened: 1948
- Closed: 1953
After serving as a Nebraska State Senator and as a doctor at a hospital in Angola, Dr. Aaron McMillan returned to Omaha to establish a hospital. It was 1948, and his goal was to have a free hospital open to anyone in the community. Opening at North 20th and Grace, the People’s Hospital ran for five years.
2. Wise Memorial Hospital
|The second Wise Memorial Hospital, used from 1901 to 1908.|
- Location: 3208 Sherman Avenue
- Opened: 1901
- Moved: 1902
- Location: 2225 Sherman Avenue
- Opened: 1902
- Moved: 1908
Opened in 1901, the first Wise Memorial Hospital was built by the Jewish community of Omaha. Named in honor of the founder of American Reform Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, it was located in a small frame building constructed at 3208 Sherman Avenue in 1901.
During the following year, the hospital served 3,025 patients, forcing them to move to a larger facility. In 1902, Wise Hospital moved to the former J.J. Brown estate at 2225 Sherman Avenue. Brown’s mansion was a gigantic brick house with more than 15 rooms, sitting on a large yard that was finely kept. The hospital stayed there until 1908, when it moved to South 24th and Harney Streets. The hospital closed in 1930.
3. Immanuel Deaconess Hospital
|Omaha’s Immanuel Hospital, open from 1890 to 1974.|
- Location: 3454 Meredith Avenue
- Opened: 1890
- Moved: 1974
Located at 3454 Meredith Avenue, Omaha’s Immanuel Hospital was founded by Swedish Lutherans in 1890. Started as a nurse’s teaching school called the Immanuel Deaconess Institute, the hospital was a logical place for the nurses to practice their profession. In 1909, they had 65 rooms and served thousands of people annually. The Institute also ran several other facilities at this location, including a children’s home, an old folks home, a nursing school, and the hospital. When it closed in 1974, there were 20 buildings. Today, the facility is located near N. 72nd and Ames.
Learn more from my article, A History of North Omaha’s Immanuel Hospital.
4. Swedish Mission Hospital
|Omaha’s Swedish Mission Hospital, open from 1905 to 1924.|
- Location: 3706 N 24th Street
- Opened: 1905
- Closed: 1928
5. Evangelical Covenant Hospital
|North Omaha’s Evangelical Covenant Hospital, open from 1924 to 1938. Information courtesy|
- Location: 3706 N 24th Street
- Opened: 1928
- Closed: 1938
The Swedish Mission Hospital became the Evangelical Covenant Hospital. In 1931, the Evangelical Convenant Church renovated the hospital, building a large addition and renovating the existing hospital. However, between the mortgage debt and decreasing numbers of patients in the 1930s, the Evangelical Covenant Hospital hemorrhaged money and couldn’t stay open. A last minute bid to save the it didn’t work, and in 1938 the church sold the hospital to the Salvation Army for $50,000.
6. Salvation Army Women’s Hospital and Booth Hospital
- Location: 3824 N 24th Street
- Opened: 1896
- Closed: 1920
Second Location (Salvation Army Rescue Home and Maternity Hospital)
- Location: 2008 North 16th Street
- Opened: 1920
- Closed: 1938
Third Location (Catherine Booth Memorial Hospital)
- Location: 2404 Pratt Street
- Opened: 1938
- Closed: 1966
Fourth Location (Booth Memorial Hospital)
- Location: 426 South 40th Street
- Opened: 1966
- Closed: 1978
The Salvation Army Rescue Home and Maternity Hospital was established at 3824 N 24th Street in 1896. It was renamed for Catherine Booth and moved to 2404 Pratt Street in 1938 to the former Evangelical Covenant Hospital. Booth Hospital was operated by the Salvation Army to serve unwed mothers. The facility was also called the Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers.
7. Methodist Hospital
- Location: 3612 Cuming Street
- Opened: 1908
- New Building: 1917
- Moved: 1968
The Methodist Episcopal Hospital and Deaconess’ Home Association started in 1891. Focused exclusively on opening a hospital, the Methodists’ first hospital was opened at St. Mary’s Avenue and S. 20th Street. In 1908, they moved their facility to 3612 Cuming Street which had 128 beds in the middle part of the building pictured above. They remained there until 1968, and moved their hospital afterwards.
8. Presbyterian Hospital
|North Omaha’s Presbyterian Hospital, open from 1890 to ?.|
- Location: 1626 Wirt Street
- Opened: 1890
- Closed: ???
In 1890, the Presbyterians opened their hospital at 1626 Wirt Street in North Omaha. The Presbyterian Hospital was formally opened in 1892.
9. Negro Women’s Christian Home
|These African American women in Omaha are wearing Red Cross uniforms. They might have served at the Negro Women’s Christian Home. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
- Location: 3029 Pinkney Street
- Opened: 1907
- Closed: ???
Omaha was never legally segregated, beyond federal housing laws in the 1930s. However, from the early 1900s through today, informal segregation has marked boundaries for people of color throughout the city. Schools, homes, stores, and even hospitals have been informally segregated along strict color lines for more than a century. Located at 3029 Pinkney Street, the Negro Women’s Christian Home existed because of these practices.
10. Kountze Park Hospital
- Location: 2102 Wirt Street
- Opened: Circa 1910
- Closed: Circa 1915
The Kountze Park Hospital at 2102 Wirt Street lasted for approximately a decade with fewer than 20 beds. Its staff included doctors for medicine; surgery; gynecology and obstetrics; eye, ear, nose and throat; and neurology. The hospital was run by Dr. John O. Nystrom. In its last year, the young institution faced wild accusations by a former nurse including illegal doping and abuse. It closed just a short while later, and Nystrom left Omaha permanently.
11. St. Luke’s Hospital
- Location: 2121 Lake Street
- Opened: 1917
- Closed: ???
Established in 1917, St. Luke’s Hospital was located at 2121 Lake Street. It had 20 beds, and in its first year was alternately referred to as specializing in maternity care and eye, ear, nose and throat specifically. Earlier, the address was home to the Omaha-Florence Sanatorium. It had four doctors and eight nurses, and was privately owned. In 1918, the hospital was reported to have a complete operating room, and accepted “all surgical and non-contagious medical cases… from reputable physicians. A separate building is used for maternity cases…”
12. Salvation Army Women’s Hospital
|The Salvation Army Women’s Hospital at 1702 Grace Street in circa 1920.|
- Location: 1702 Grace Street
- Opened: 1910 (?)
- Moved: 1938
It was the Salvation Army Women’s Hospital, and it was located on the south end of the Near North Side neighborhood at 1702 Grace St. After the Salvation Army took over the old Evangelical Covenant Hospital, it became a halfway house and then the German Old Folks Home. It was demolished by the 1960s.
13. Frederick Hospital
- Location: 1425-27 North 17th Street
- Opened: 1917
- Closed: 1947
Dr. John Henry Thompsen (1884-1947) opened the Frederick Hospital in 1917. Thompsen graduated from Creighton University’s medical school in 1914, and just a few years later opened his institution in the Near North Side neighborhood. Thompsen was a general practitioner, and kept 8 beds in his hospital. Over the years, the Omaha World-Herald reported there were a number of accident victims and senior citizens treated there, as well as many newborns who were delivered by Thompsen. The hospital closed immediately after Dr. Thompsen passed away in January 1947.
Other Healthcare Facilities
The Friendship House was a neo-natal care facility located at North 19th & Ohio Streets. There were plans for a segregated hospital called the Provident Hospital at North 30th and Wirt Streets in 1945. It was never built though.
Hospitals in North Omaha Today
In 1978, St. Joseph’s Hospital moved to N. 30th and California Streets in North Omaha. It has been the teaching hospital for the Creighton University College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing, College of Dentistry and the College of Health Careers for a long time. Immanuel Hospital moved to 72nd and Sorensen Parkway in 1974. Both of those hospitals are now owned by the same healthcare conglomerate called CHI.
Located on the peripheries of North Omaha, these facilities have largely lost their charitable natures. Instead, they are part of a modern American healthcare industry that is profit-motivated and indifferent to the economic suffering of people that often undermines socio-economic advancement by incapacitating otherwise capable people.
As the map at the top of this article shows, from the Charles Drew Clinic on Lake Street to the Florence Clinic near Mormon St, and from the river to 64th Street, there are NO healthcare providers, let alone any of the historic hospitals that once filled the community.
Health in North Omaha Today
|North Omaha’s EPA Superfund area. The black arrow is pointing at the ASARCO site.|
Add to that the reality that North Omahans today are under-insured, as well as historical poisoning of the livable environment by ASARCO and the current poisoning of North Omaha by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) coal powered North Omaha Station. The NAACP rated this plant the 16th most offensive power plant in the country promoting environmental injustice. While OPPD announced they are transitioning coal out of the plant in 2014, the plant continues to spew pollution across North Omaha right now.
Despite the vast majority of northeast Omaha being a federally-designated Superfund site since 1999 and being placed on the long-term remediation list since 2004, only 1/3 of the community’s residences have been cleaned up. Out of 15,000, fewer than 5,000 are currently completed. Fewer than 300 properties, including vacant lots, have had the lead removed from their soils. Add to that the toxic lead paint still sitting and chipping and poisoning children in North Omaha’s old houses, and all of this paints a bleak picture making it easy to see this area of the city seems damned to stay unhealthy.
All of that is piled on with the realities of living in an economically depressed community; living in a food desert; living as low-income and impoverished people in America today; and being a community of color in America today, affected by all the racism, segregation and white privilege that dominates the United States.
Learn more from my article, A History of Lead Poisoning in North Omaha.
Hope for the Future
A video highlighting efforts to challenge North Omaha’s food desert.
The North Omaha Area Health Free Clinic, called NOAH, is struggling to keep the community healthy. The work of Ira Coombs focuses on keeping NOAH open, and is an inspiration for this article. After growing up in North Omaha, Coombs became a nurse and instructor in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska. Today, he scrapes together grants and donations to keep the doors open, hoping to bring small doses of health and hope to North Omaha.
In the 1970s, the Charles Drew Health Center was opened with the intention of filling the gap created by the abandonment of North Omaha by historic healthcare providers. Today, its recently-expanded service center includes exam rooms, a WIC and infant mortality initiative, Omaha Healthy Start, a pharmacy and laboratory area, and a full kitchen for cooking and nutrition classes for patients.
The North Omaha Community Care Council was founded in 1996 as an idea and concept introduced to the faculty and staff of University of Nebraska Medical Center. Today, the NOCCC seeks to provide a mechanism for collaborative efforts to improve communications and achieve greater access to affordable and quality healthcare, education, information, resources and services for the North Omaha community. Community members are involved throughout the organization, including activities, committees, and more.
There are infrastructure improvements underway, also. The Missouri Riverfront Trail’s northern section starts at the Kiwanis Park trail head at Locust Street and Abbott Drive, going through Carter Lake and past Eppley Airfield, up to Power Park, N.P. Dodge Park, and onwards before heading to the Washington County line and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge. Beginning at Fontenelle Boulevard and Sorensen Parkway and ending near 90th Street and Military Road, the park-like Sorenson Trail goes to Immanuel Medical Center on 72nd Street.
Health in North Omaha today is not even a shadow of its history. Maybe learning the history of the community can lead to a new future where North Omahans are healthy, whole and happy people. Only time will tell…
Do you know of other free and affordable healthcare options in North Omaha? Are you passionate about this history? Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments section below!
You Might Like…
- An Early History of North Omaha
- A History of Theatres and Movie Theaters in North Omaha
- A History of Lead Poisoning in North Omaha
- A History of Churches in North Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s Provident Hospital
- A History of North Omaha’s Salvation Army Hospital
|A comparison of the Methodist Hospital building over a century.|