Atrium Health President and CEO Eugene A. Woods with Thereasea Clark Elder, one of the first Black public health nurses in the Queen City

News | 2 months ago

Celebrating Our Black Healthcare Pioneers

In celebration of Black History Month, Atrium Health president and CEO, Eugene A. Woods, writes a letter to teammates reflecting upon our dedicated efforts to reach vulnerable and underserved communities at our recent vaccination events, and expresses his appreciation for the many pioneers of color who have left significant footprints in the medical community and ensured access to healthcare FOR ALL.

 

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte as one of our first Atrium Health mass vaccinations events was underway. While it was a rainy and foggy day, the energy from our teammates was undeniably clear. In preparation for over 20,000 people entering the stadium during this three-day period, our teams were working around the clock to transport equipment, set up tents and create walkways for crowd flow. It was evident that every teammate knew the importance of this event, as well as our other recent vaccine events, in partnership with Black and Latinx churches. Not only were we playing a role in increasing community immunity, but we were also targeting the most underserved and vulnerable to ensure that every single person – no matter their background – had an equal chance to receive the vaccine.

And amongst the flurry of activity and hearing the incredible feeling of hope the vaccine was giving to each community member I talked with, I found myself at the historical marker in the stadium, which reminded me that, on about the 40-yard line, beginning in 1891, Good Samaritan Hospital was built to serve the Black community of Charlotte. In fact, after World War II, Good Samaritan Hospital was the only area hospital to care for Black patients and employ Black doctors, who could not practice at any of the other hospitals.

Yet, ironically, here I was – over 100 years later – on the very grounds where this hospital stood, witnessing a mass vaccination event that was providing care for thousands, adding to a grand total of over 23,000 community members of color vaccinated by Atrium Health to date.

And in that moment, a small ray of sunshine peered through the clouds and reflected off the wording of the historical sign. Call it faith or circumstance, but I’d like to think that the ray of sunshine symbolized Atrium Health’s pioneers of color – those who came before us and blazed the path to ensure that access to healthcare would never be dependent upon one’s color nor creed.

Pioneers, for instance, like Thereasea Clark Elder, one of the first Black public health nurses in the Queen City, who herself worked at Good Samaritan Hospital, then later integrated Mecklenburg County Health Department as one of its first Black public health nurses and, most recently, was named to North Carolina African American Heritage Commissions’ impressive list of 2021 Black History Month Honorees. While Mrs. Elder recently passed this year, I know she is shining down on us and her legacy will live on through the work we do every single day.

So, as we near the end of our celebration of Black History Month this February, I want to pause and recognize these pioneers – our giants of healthcare – for the incredible foundation they laid for our FOR ALL mission. Because of them, we welcome people from everywhere, of every identity and every race, to a place where they know they’ll be respected, appreciated and valued for who they are. Because of them, we are leading through Courageous Conversations to break down silos and create an inclusive culture for all teammates. And because of them, we are stepping outside our walls to not just provide healthcare, but also work toward bringing health equity, social justice and change to our community.

Thankfully, we have come a long way since segregated hospitals and have moved mountains in the ways we care FOR ALL. And I couldn’t agree more with Amanda Gorman, the young poet laureate who stated during the 2021 presidential inauguration: “… for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”

So, let’s continue to stand on the shoulders of our pioneers – like Mrs. Elder – and make them proud by leaving this world a better place than how we found it. Let’s continue to be a health system FOR ALL devoted to bringing health, hope and healing to every corner of the communities we proudly serve.

 

Warm Regards, 

Gene signature

Eugene A. Woods 
President & Chief Executive Officer