St. Dominic Hospital works to prevent racism

By Lillian Hawthorne, RN, BSN
On April 16, 1946, ownership of a rundown 20-bed Mississippi hospital was transferred to the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL. The Jackson Infirmary, to be known henceforth as St. Dominic Hospital, became the first hospital in the nation dedicated to the founder of the Order of Preachers. It put the Dominican Sisters in the midst of one of the greatest challenges to face the white ruling class in the country: dismantling Jim Crow.
When the Sisters took charge, the hospital was still facing segregation, as laws hadn’t changed. Black patients were admitted into dank basement rooms; black employees earned lower wages than white employees; and it was obvious that the black and white staff did not interact well, if at all. The Sisters admit to not always knowing in which direction to move, but they knew they were part of a divine mission, so they launched a desegregation campaign.
First, they raised the wages of black employees to parity with whites. They upgraded facilities for black patients, including a modern pharmacy, laboratory, and kitchen. They also began hiring black employees to positions such as registered nurses, surgical technologists, laboratory technicians and pharmacists. By the end of 1965, all public areas had been desegregated. A black woman had enrolled at the school of nursing in the R.N. program.

A statue of St. Dominic stands outside the hospital chapel in Jackson. (Photo and story courtesy of St. Dominic's Hospital)

A statue of St. Dominic stands outside the hospital chapel in Jackson. (Photo and story courtesy of St. Dominic’s Hospital)

Today, St. Dominic Health Services (SDHS) is the only Catholic healthcare provider in the state of Mississippi.
In 2005, in sync with the Dominican Sisters’ commitment to dismantling institutional racism in all of their institutions, the health system established an anti-racism team that works to transform a culture of institutional racism. People of color are found in every facet of the organizational chart, from environmental services to vice president.
As a member of the St. Dominic anti-racism Team (StDART), I am grateful to the Dominican Sisters for their support in addressing institutional racism. The StDART team has the full support of SDHS administrators as well. On more than one occasion, Claude Harbarger, St. Dominic Health Services President, has shaken my hand and said, “Thank you for doing this work for us. We know it will be worthwhile.” That’s the hope I have as well, that the work we are doing will indeed be worthwhile.
(Author Lillian Hawthorn, RN, BSN, is a RN Clinical Educator at St. Dominic.)