Since June 25, 1918 when Jackson Health System opened its doors as Miami City Hospital during a deadly influenza outbreak in 1918, it has remained true to the its mission “to provide a single, high standard of quality care for all the residents of Miami-Dade County regardless of their ability to pay.”
That mission echoes through the halls of the hospital that Dr. James M. Jackson Jr., built even as it stands among the nation’s premier healthcare entities providing comprehensive, cutting-edge care through more than 12,000 employees, including an array of highly trained physicians and specialists.
Jackson has weathered many storms, both in the literal sense beginning with the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, and figuratively in the shape of financial gales that shook it to its core.
But during its storied Century of Miracles, the healthcare system has always been known for its life-saving advancements, enduring innovation, and comprehensive network of care. It’s highly unlikely to meet any native Miamian who was born within the last century who doesn’t have a Jackson story to tell.
A COMMITMENT TO CARE
As its rich history and medical legacy denotes, Jackson remains committed to making sure each patient has equal access to healthcare regardless of his or her race, culture, or socioeconomic status. Admittedly, as it relates to racial equality, it wasn’t always this way.
Like most Southern institutions of its time, Jackson initially had segregated healthcare facilities. When the hospital first opened – in what is now known as The Alamo – only white patients were served in the 13-bed facility. Blacks were served in a separate ward in remodeled wood shacks.
A SEGREGATED PAST
According to Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, historian and founder of The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Black physicians were also not originally allowed to practice at Jackson.
However, in the 1950s, Jackson began working to level the playing field. On Jan. 22, 1953, Jackson opened the first maternity ward for Blacks in then Dade County. Until that time, Black babies were delivered at Old Christian Hospital in Overtown or in homes by midwives.
DOORS ARE OPENED
Fields also said Dr. J.K. Johnson became the first Black doctor allowed to practice at Jackson during this same decade. Jackson ended segregation altogether in 1966 and today boasts a diverse staff and treats all patients and visitors equally.
Fields acknowledges the institution’s growth and evolution, calling it a community staple that should be honored.
"Jackson Memorial Hospital's centennial provides the entire community the opportunity to learn about its past and praise its advancements,” Fields said. “Jackson's history is the community's history, too. Let's celebrate.”
Bishop Victor T. Curry of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church offered similar celebratory words, stating that he has always known Jackson to be a friend to Blacks.
“Jackson Health System has not only been a staple in our communities, but it has been the pioneer for providing premier healthcare services to people from all walks of life, and especially those in Miami’s black community,” Curry wrote in an emailed statement. “In a society where the African American people continue to fight for equality on varying levels, Jackson has always offered a platform and a place for people of color. Jackson Memorial Hospital has been a friend to those who are considered the least, the lost, and the left out.”
FOR THE COMMUNITY
He also acknowledged how willing Jackson was to partner with his congregation to provide free health care to the people who needed it most.
“Jackson has a known presence within the New Birth Baptist Church, providing free health screenings on numerous occasions and has always been a partner in advocating causes for good health,” Curry said. “It is definitely a top choice for health care for the members in our church. We salute and celebrate Jackson for 100 years of impeccable service.”
Fields and Curry are just two Black voices that celebrate Jackson Health System’s centennial. There are countless others who always say, ‘If you want the best healthcare, go to Jackson.’ Few corporations in the world stay in business for a full century. Yet Jackson and members of the community are preparing for the system to survive for the next 100 years and beyond.
“Three of my four children were born at Jackson and they have great pediatricians,” said Sherolyn Harmon, a 59-year-old Miami native. “I chose Jackson over all of the other hospitals when my kids had emergency situations.”
To learn more about Jackson’s Centennial and history, visit centuryofmiracles.org.