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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Evelyn Schmidt, February 9, 1999. Interview K-0137. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lincoln Health Center's history and mission

By the time Schmidt returned to Durham in 1971, desegregation rulings had changed the community. She assumed the role of executive director of the Lincoln Health Center, determined to use this new freedom to serve all of Durham's residents, regardless of race or class. Schmidt also describes the history of the health center.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Evelyn Schmidt, February 9, 1999. Interview K-0137. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANN KAPLAN:
So then, your time in Pennsylvania, that was before you went to New York City?
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
That was before New York City. Then I came down here. As I said, when I came down here, you were coming down to a community which was really, again, more advanced. We know that segregation legislation had been passed, although initially when we opened the health center here, which at that time occupied the ground level of the old Lincoln Hospital, which is really where the parking lot is. And that had been in the community since the turn of the century. It dates back to when Dr. Aaron Moore, who was the first African-American Board-certified physician to come to Durham--. At about the same time the Duke family was planning to put up a statue to tobacco workers or Confederate soldiers. I never quite got the story straight. Anyhow, Dr. Moore convinced them that the money would be better spent for a hospital. So the first Lincoln Hospital was actually a wooden structure on Proctor Street that burned down, and Dr. Moore went about raising the moneys for the hospital that we tore down. Unfortunately he died about a year before the hospital opened. You see, at that time we had Lincoln Hospital, which served primarily the African-American community, and Watts Hospital, which served the white Durham community. And about the same time that we opened up, which was mid-September, 1971, the Lincoln Hospital board of trustees had received a grant from the federal government, which at that time was finding, at first, neighborhood health centers, under the Office of Economic Opportunity, and then community health centers under the Public Health Service Act, which had been amended. So basically, we came into being at the same time that Durham County Hospital Corporation came into existence in order to build the new hospital, which was an amalgamation of Lincoln and Watts. And as you know, it was known at that time as Durham County Hospital, now Durham Regional Hospital, and that hospital opened up in October of'76, at which time Lincoln and Watts both closed as in-patient facilities. And the health center then occupied all four floors of the old building. Part of the requirements of the grant was that the board of trustees of Lincoln Hospital had funded a community board, which really was responsible for administrative policy. And the community board is largely, actually, users of the center, and then those institutions which really the center works with. Now when the new hospital opened up, the fiscal grant passed over to the Durham County Hospital Corporation, but the community board and all of its responsibilities stayed in place. So basically, we then occupied all four floors of a very tired old building, and the president of Durham County Hospital Corporation at that time, Mr. Tom Harrington, and I agreed that what we needed was a facility that would accommodate an ambulatory program, not an in-patient. But with a tired old building, whose elevator didn't always work and you couldn't always have air conditioning and light at the same time. So basically we were fortunate enough to be able to raise the funds for the facility you're in now. This building we moved into in December of'82. Tore down the old building, put in the parking lot, and actually only lost two days of operation. And as you know, like many health centers, we offer a full range of services, adult medicine, pediatrics, dental care, social work, mental health, a large pre-natal service, which is a professional service of Durham Community Health Department, located here ever since the center opened. And we also have transportation. And we have many, many specialty clinics and some special clinics like our diabetes program. We also have a homeless shelter program, mental health care for the homeless, and a school-based program at Hillside High School, and an early intervention program which was initially started by the health department in February of'91. And we worked with them then and then were able to get Ryan White III funds available to us, to the health center, and we now have a program that's operating every day. And as you know, Durham has a high number of both HIV-infected individuals but also of AIDS cases, so it's very important that we recognize that need.
ANN KAPLAN:
Can I pause here for a sec? First, you're telling me the history of the health center, which is completely useful and very good for the interview. Could you tell me what year did you come on board and what was your professional role?
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
All right. I came on board September 1, 1971, and I came on as the executive director.
ANN KAPLAN:
When the health center was created.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
No. Actually the grant was awarded in mid-June of 1970, and staff had been hired. I was actually the last person hired, and then we became operational mid-September of '71. At that time, when I came, I was executive director, but I was also the only pediatrician. So as we grew, fortunately very, very soon, Dr. Samuel Katz, who was the head of pediatrics at Duke, came over and said, "Anything I can do to help you? Would you like to have a resident in January?" And I said, "That would be great." [Laughter] So that was our first affiliation with Duke in the sense of residents. We now have them not only in pediatrics but medicine, so that it's an elective in community psychiatry in the P.A. program. So we have nursing school students from all the nursing schools around. But the very first one was really very critical at the time with the offer of some pediatric assistance.
ANN KAPLAN:
OK, great. Just to get your impressions of the community from your perspective of someone who had been at Duke and who had been away and who had come back and now was based much more in the Durham community rather than just with Duke.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
That's exactly right. Yes, I was on the other side of town. That's exactly right. And although you now had legislation which said that people could go anywhere, as far as health care was concerned, which was a concern of both the professional and lay community who started Lincoln Community Health Center, and very much Dr. Charles Watts, who actually was the very first Board-certified African-American surgeon to come and practice in Durham in 1950. Basically, you still saw the needs of large groups of individuals who didn't have access to health care as they should have access to health care. And I think that's the reason that health centers were started, was that no one regardless of any barrier--and the barrier shouldn't be race, it shouldn't be ethnicity, it shouldn't be money.
ANN KAPLAN:
And it was all of those things.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
All of those, in many, many ways. In terms of the basic health needs, which provided not just emergency care but ongoing care. You don't cure anything, or you don't treat adequately anything just on an emergency basis. You maintain life, but you don't really necessarily treat.