Health Team

Saint Augustine's plans to renovate historic hospital

Posted March 3, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2011 10:42 a.m. EST

— A Raleigh landmark and symbol of North Carolina's segregated past might have a new future. Saint Augustine's College plans to renovate the old Saint Agnes Hospital and part of its health care mission.

Saint Augustine's is heir to a unique health care heritage, created as Saint Agnes served the black community during the Jim Crow era. That health care mission came to a close 50 years ago, but it's about to be reborn.

Although the building that housed Saint Agnes is only a shell of its former self, it was once a haven for black people in need of hospital care in the segregated South.

Saint Agnes opened in 1906, and the actual building, built from stone from Saint Augustine's property, was finished in 1908. It was said to be the only major hospital for black people from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. It closed in 1961, as Wake Medical Center opened.

"You can't help but respect the fact that it was a legacy institution," said Saint Augustine's President Dianne Boardley Suber.

The hospital was also a nursing school for young black women. Saint Augustine's holds many artifacts of the hospital's past, including stained glass windows that used to sit in Gothic stone frames.

The college plans to bring the memorabilia back to Saint Agnes when the building is reconstructed and transformed into the new Health Disparities Institute.

"We're aggressively seeking funding for the building," said Dr. Hengameh Allen, a nutrition scientist who is executive director of Saint Augustine's Center for Allied Health & Health Disparities Institute.

Allen said the building's health care mission will be reborn, especially with plans for a physician's assistant program.

There's a huge demand for physician's assistants, which the school can help to fill, according to Suber.

"Certainly in rural and under-served areas, there is an epidemic, if you will, of the absence of quality and adequate medical care," she said. "It's a direction that we are very excited about."

The new institute will also serve as a community health education center. The school is involved in the community in raising health literacy, teaching people about proper nutrition and health care screening.

The college is seeking accreditation approval to offer graduate-level courses, such as the physician's assistant program.