Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood traces its roots to the mid-nineteenth century and has long been at the heart of Houston’s African-American community. In recent years, the neighborhood has experienced significant economic and social challenges. Increased pressure from market-rate housing development has resulted in the displacement of many longtime residents and threatens the community’s historical and social fabric.
A few years ago, Houston Endowment was working with stakeholders in Third Ward who were looking to implement strategies to prevent further displacement.
As foundation staff developed relationships with people in the community, we heard a lot about Riverside General Hospital. Opened in 1927 as Houston Negro Hospital, Riverside was the first local nonprofit hospital for black patients, but it had been shuttered since 2014 as a result of financial and legal troubles. Community members had valued it as not only a place to get the healthcare they needed, but also as a center of community. Everyone seemed to have a personal tie to Riverside and to treasure the historic institution.
We also heard from leaders of Houston’s healthcare sector that our city lacked centrally-located mental and behavioral health services. They specifically mentioned that Riverside’s closing had widened the gap in access to care.
State Representative Garnet Coleman, who represents Third Ward, shared with Houston Endowment his vision for Harris County to own and operate Riverside, providing integrated primary care and behavioral health services at the site, like the services the county provides through Harris Health and the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD.
With the support of then-Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County, over the next year, Houston Endowment worked with the Riverside Hospital trustees and major lienholders to help facilitate the purchase of the hospital by the County. In spring 2018, the County was able to close on the sale of Riverside with a grant from Houston Endowment.
Under the leadership of Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the County is now leading the planning for the future of the Riverside facility based on evidence-based best practices, healthcare access and service needs. Informed by the findings of Rice University health policy scholar Dr. Quianta Moore, who conducted a needs assessment of Third Ward residents with a grant from Houston Endowment, future services will extend beyond healthcare to help holistically address the other social determinants of health inequalities impacting Houston’s Third Ward community.
While Houston Endowment helped to bring everyone around the table, the project to bring Riverside back to life has only been possible thanks to the spirit of collaboration and commitment to honor the needs and desires of the community from people across multiple sectors. This includes elected officials, private sector leaders, and Third Ward residents.
“Riverside is a significant and beloved institution,” said Representative Coleman. “I know that it will once again play a vital role in Third Ward – and in Houston.”