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Demonstrators decry developer’s use of Homer G. Phillips’ name for north St. Louis clinic

New Homer G. Phillips Memorial medical facility

Yvonne Jones, president of the Homer G. Phillips Nurses Alumni Incorporated, speaks at the press event and rally outside the new Homer G. Phillips Memorial medical facility on Jefferson and Cass avenues, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Jones was a 1968 graduate of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital's school of nursing and worked as a pediatric nurse at the hospital until 1977. The building, slated to open in spring, is being built by NorthSide Regeneration developer Paul McKee. It will open with three in-patient and 16 emergency room beds. The original five-story, 670-bed Homer G. Phillips Hospital in the Ville neighborhood was shuttered in 1979. But some people see the new name as an affront to the original, which is a recognized historic landmark. Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

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A new 3-bed medical facility built by northside developer Paul McKee has come under fire from residents who think naming it Homer G. Phillips Hospital is disrespectful to the memory of the former 670-bed hospital which served the Black community for generations. Video by Hillary Levin

ST. LOUIS — A group of about 25 people gathered Saturday morning to demand that NorthSide Regeneration cease using the Homer G. Phillips name for the developer’s new health care clinic at the corner of Jefferson and Cass avenues.

Demonstrators, led by Missouri Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, chanted “change the name” and “justice for Homer” outside the recently completed facility, which is not yet open but that representatives say could begin accepting patients in the spring.

Some elected officials, including Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, have criticized the facility’s branding as the Homer G. Phillips Memorial Hospital. The name refers to the 670-bed Homer G. Phillips Hospital that operated for more than 40 years in the Ville neighborhood 1.5 miles to the west, serving Black St. Louisans during segregation and training generations of Black medical professionals before its 1979 closure. It was named in honor of politically influential lawyer Homer Phillips, who led a campaign to get the city to set aside money for a new Black hospital in the 1920s before he was shot and killed.

The new $20 million health facility, on the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, will have just three in-patient and 16 emergency room beds.

“We are demanding that the legacy of Homer G. Phillips is not used in vain,” Aldridge said. “This ain’t no hospital.”

Georgia Anderson, 90, said she worked at Homer G. Phillips for nearly 25 years until the hospital closed and she was transferred to City Hospital near Lafayette Square.

“I thought it was a joke when I heard,” Anderson told the Post-Dispatch. “And then I came back here one day and there was the name (on the building), and I said, ‘That can’t possibly be.’ Again, I have no problem with the facility. I just have a problem with the name.”

A lawyer for NorthSide Regeneration declined to comment beyond a statement the hospital’s board of directors issued last month, which said the facility has no intention of changing its name. The statement said it would be “a hospital in every sense of the word,” with 24-hour emergency room care and full imaging services.

“Homer G. Phillips Memorial Hospital has a daunting mission to live up to its name,” the statement said. “We intend to be worthy of the challenge. We are sure that the hospital will serve the current medical needs of an underserved community while honoring the historic and courageous leader that bears its name.”

The tension is the latest pushback to developer Paul McKee and his Northside Regeneration, which began buying up hundreds of acres of distressed land and buildings in north St. Louis over a decade ago for an ambitious redevelopment plan.

NorthSide argues its land assemblage attracted the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s headquarters to the area, though the city’s relationship with the developer strained as the two sides argued over the price City Hall would pay for the NGA site.

With little progress other than a gas station and grocery store on the north end of downtown, as well as allegations of the misuse of state tax credits, the city in 2018 canceled McKee’s development rights. Still, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in 2019 overwhelmingly approved allowing as much as $6.42 million in development subsidies to be used for the new health clinic.

Aldridge said he and others believe the name disrespects the hospital’s legacy and will continue to protest the name of the new facility. On Saturday, they began circulating a petition against it. The petition has support, Aldridge said, from Mayor Jones, St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green and Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, among other local officials. St. Louis Treasurer Adam Layne was also at the protest on Saturday.

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