Documentary details how Kansas City hospitals moved beyond “separate but equal” era,
Schools, buses and lunch counters are settings that are often associated with the civil rights struggle. The doctrine of “separate but equal” stained almost every significant institution in American life, however, and healthcare facilities were no exception. A new documentary film tells the story of how Kansas City, Mo., bridged the gap between its General Hospital No. 1 for whites and General Hospital No. 2 for African-Americans.
From Separate to Equal: The Creation of Truman Medical Center chronicles the founding of the integrated public health system from those two segregated hospitals. The filmmaker, Kevin Willmott, is an associate professor at the University of Kansas at Lawrence.
As healthcare integrated, Willmott says, “Most of the black hospitals just died. They were not incorporated into white hospitals. I think that’s the thing that makes the Truman story unique.”
The 60-minute film explores the secret meetings in the mid1950s between the white assistant city manager, Albert Mauro Sr., and Dr. Sam Rogers, the leading black physician, that paved the way, Willmott says. The impetus, as it so often is in healthcare consolidation, was financial rather than the moral case for integration, Willmott says—the city simply couldn’t afford separate but equal any longer. Willmott credits Mauro’s respectful approach to Rogers and other African-American healthcare providers: “If it had been someone besides Mauro, it might not have been so successful.”
The importance of Truman’s founding continues to resonate in the person of John Bluford, Truman Medical Centers’ president and CEO and the current chairman of the American Hospital Association, Willmott says. Bluford’s career started at a segregated South Carolina hospital that he describes in the film as not much more than a first-aid station that served the entire African-American community, Willmott says.
“To arrive today at a hospital that is far more than what is called a safety net hospital and to have an African-American heading that up is the American story,” he says.
To watch the film go to www.fromseparatetoequal.org.
The documentary tells how financial reasons helped spur the creation of Truman.