On this website, North Omaha includes all the area in Douglas County, Nebraska, north of Dodge Street and east of North 72nd. In this history of North Omaha, there have been at least a dozen hospitals within these boundaries. They were religious and non-secular; charities and businesses; segregated and mixed race. Some were run by African Americans, others by Jews, and others still by Scandinavians. Today, there is only one left.
Omaha’s first Mercy Hospital, Wise Memorial, Immanuel Deaconess, Swedish Mission, Evangelical Covenant, Booth Memorial Women, Fort Omaha, Methodist and Midtown, Kountze Park, St. Luke, Presbyterian, Frederick, St. Joseph, and The People’s Hospital have all called North Omaha home. The Negro Women’s Christian Home, the Friendship House, and the Charles Drew Health Center have all been here, too. How did North Omaha go from being the healthcare hotbed of Omaha to becoming a medical desert? Read on to learn more…
Roots of Hospitals and Healthcare
Hospitals and healthcare in North Omaha began somewhere, and this is there: 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.
By 1950, there were more than 100 pharmacies, 100 private physicians, doctors and dentists, and many hospitals. These organizations and individuals are important to note because they provided services that others often wouldn’t.
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 health crisis facing the community.
1. Wise Memorial Hospital
- 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.
2. Immanuel Deaconess Hospital
- 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.
3. Swedish Mission Hospital
- Location: 3706 North 24th Street
- Opened: 1905
- Closed: 1924
Swedes with the Evangelical Covenant Church were responsible for starting the Swedish Mission Hospital at 3706 North 24th Street. They bought the former home of Omaha pioneer John McCreary and launched the hospital to serve the community in 1905. Over the next two decades, the institution became a landmark in North Omaha. With fifteen rooms in three wards, they added a three story building, allowing the hospital to treat 600 patients annually. The Swedish Mission Hospital transitioned into a new organization in 1924.
4. Evangelical Covenant Hospital
- Location: 3706 North 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.
5. Salvation Army Women’s Hospital and Booth Hospital
The Salvation Army Rescue Home and Maternity Hospital was established at 3824 North 24th Street in 1896. After that it moved to four other locations. They offered religiously-oriented care for young mothers and unwed mothers, as well as adoption services for the children. Today, the Salvation Army North Corps Community Center operates in the same North 24th Street location. Learn more from my article, A History of the Salvation Army Hospital in North Omaha.
6. 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.
7. Presbyterian Hospital
- Location: 1626 Wirt Street
- Opened: 1890
- Closed: 1893
In 1890, the Presbyterians opened their hospital at 1626 Wirt Street in North Omaha. Founded by a young doctor W. O. Henry, it was a minuscule facility with just six beds, one part-time doctor and four nurses. In 1893, it was moved to a different location. Dr. Henry became important to Omaha’s emerging medical community, eventually teaching at Creighton and doctoring at St. Joseph’s Hospital before founding the Lord Lister Hospital.
8. Negro Women’s Christian Home
- 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.
9. Kountze Park Hospital
- Location: 2102 Wirt Street
- Opened: Circa 1910
- Closed: Circa 1915
The original hospital at this location was opened in 1900, and was called Bethany Hospital. By 1910, the facility was operated under the name of the neighborhood where it was located. The Kountze Park Hospital at 2102 Wirt Street lasted for approximately a half decade with fewer than 20 beds. Its staff included doctors for medicine; surgery; gynecology and obstetrics; eye, ear, nose and throat; and neurology.
Led by Dr. John O. Nystrom, during 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. In 1914, it was advertised that “the hospital has no medical or surgical staff; the hospital is open to the medical profession.” They stopped advertising late that year, and there’s no further mention of the facility.
10. 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. Built to serve North Omaha’s Norwegian population, it advertised in Norwegian and English throughout its existence. The hospital 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…” Originally opened in 1901, the building at this address was home to the Omaha-Florence Sanatorium for 16 years.
11. 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 for African Americans. 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. Learn more from my article, A History of People’s Hospital in North Omaha.
11. Mercy Hospital
- Location: 2401 Parker Street
- Opened: 1919
- Closed: c1924
Perhaps the first Black hospital in Omaha was at 2401 Parker Street, and was called Mercy Hospital. According to a 1975 article in the Omaha Star, Dr. Roscoe C. Riddle was the chief physician and surgeon, along with two doctors and six nurses.
Omaha’s Segregated Hospitals
With de facto segregation striking at the heart of African Americans in Omaha since 1854, it should come as no surprise that most of North Omaha’s hospitals were segregated. In my research, I found at least five separate proposals for new Black hospitals in Omaha, built to serve a community that was perpetually denied service within the mainstream hospitals of the city. Learn more from my article, The History of Segregated Hospitals in Omaha.
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
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!
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- A History of Immanuel Hospital in North Omaha