History of Harlem Hospital Center


Harlem Hospital Center is a 290-bed hospital located in Harlem in the Borough of Manhattan. It serves the Central Harlem Community, which extends from Harlem River to Morningside Avenue (East-West) and from 155th Street to 110th Street (North-South). Over one-third of Central Harlem residents fall below the Federal poverty line.


On April 18, 1887, the hospital opened in a three-story wooden building, located at the foot of East 120th Street and the East River in New York City, with 54 beds. Its initial functions were to serve as a reception center for patients awaiting transfer to Ward's Island, Randall's Island and Bellevue Hospital, New York City. From the beginning, Harlem Hospital's responsibility was to provide medical care to the poor, specifically to those living in the districts north of Central Park. Although this area had not yet felt the impact of any of the many waves of African-American immigrants from the South, the hospital's 54 beds soon were grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the rapidly growing community. The dispensary was moved to a wooden building on a lot near Harlem Hospital. The wooden building at one time had been used as the out-patient building for Gouverneur Hospital. In 1900 land was acquired by the City of New York on the east side of Lenox Avenue from 136th Street to 137th Street for a hospital of 100 beds. In 1903 additional land was purchased for the future erection of a nurses’ home, a wing to the hospital, a power house, and stables. The new hospital, with a bed capacity of 150 and located on the east side of Lenox Avenue, was opened on April 13, 1907.

Establishment of the Nursing School

In 1917, Harlem Hospital hired several African-American nurses, and as a result, many of the white nurses resigned. On January 1, 1923, a Training School for Colored was established at Harlem Hospital. The school steadily grew in size and stature. Its admission policy was later amended to include qualified applicants, regardless of race.

Appointment of the first African-American Surgeon

Immediately after the war, Harlem received its first big wave of African-American immigrants from the South. Agitation, which up to this time had been sporadic, increased for the appointment of an African-American doctor to the visiting staff of Harlem Hospital. The forces of integration triumphed. In 1919, Dr. Louis T. Wright was appointed clinical assistant in the Out-patient Department, the lowest job possible at Harlem Hospital. His service there began on January 1, 1920. Until that day, no African-American physician had been on staff at any city hospital. Four doctors resigned from Harlem Hospital in protest and Dr. Casmo D. O'Neil, the superintendent and person directly responsible for Dr. Wright's appointment, was promptly demoted to the information booth at Bellevue Hospital.

The early hostility that Dr. Wright met at Harlem Hospital from his white colleagues only served to increase his desire to excel. In 1928, after taking a competitive civil service examination, he became the first African-American Police Surgeon of the City of New York; and in 1934 he was the first Negro admitted to fellowship in the American College of Surgeons since Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who was admitted at the time of the formation of the College. In 1943, Dr. Wright was appointed Director of the Department of Surgery at Harlem Hospital, a position he held until his death in 1952. After the initial appointment of Dr. Wright to the Outpatient Department of Harlem Hospital, the appointment of other qualified African-Americans followed. In January 1926, when three other African-American physicians were added to the visiting staff, Dr. Wright was elevated to the rank of Assistant Visiting Physician. At the beginning of 1929, of the total number of 64 physicians and surgeons on the in-service staff at Harlem Hospital, seven were African-Americans.

As the Harlem community grew, so did the hospital. Over the years, a Nurses’ Residence, Women’s Pavilion, Pediatrics Building and Samuel Kountz Outpatient Clinics were added. In 1998, the hospital’s innovations continued with the opening of the state-of-art, $50 million Ronald H. Brown Ambulatory Care Pavilion, a renovated Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and a new Magnetic Resonance Imaging Unit.

The Columbia Affiliation

Harlem Hospital Center is one of the hospitals of the Health and Hospitals Corporation of the City of New York. It has been affiliated with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons since 1962. The integration of an active community hospital with one of the outstanding medical schools in this country has resulted in high quality medical care for the community as well as an unparalleled learning experience for medical students, physician assistants and residents in training.


Harlem Hospital is fully accredited by the Joint Commission and by the Council of Graduate Medical Education of the American Medical Association. The following residency training programs in the hospital are accredited by the Residency Review Committees of the Accreditation Council for graduate Medical Education (ACGME): General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Radiology, Pediatrics, General Psychiatry, Oral Surgery. Pediatric Dentistry and General Dentistry. The Hospital has fellowship programs in Gastroenterology, Infectious Disease, Pulmonary Medicine, Nephrology and Child Psychiatry.  Plastic Surgery has an integrated fellowship program with New York Presbyterian Hospital Cornell Campus.  Other services in the hospital without approved residency teaching programs include Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pathology, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, Urology, Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine. 

The Cancer Control Center of Harlem

Harlem Hospital, a venerable member of the community, provides all general and specialty medical and surgical quality health care to economically disadvantaged people. In addition to offering much needed medical care, it has been — and continues to be — a vital social, political and economic force within the community.  Harlem Hospital is one of the largest training grounds for minority and female physicians in the United States. The Cancer Program at Harlem Hospital is an integral part of patient care. The program provides high quality, technologically advanced diagnostic and treatment modalities. The cancer program is accredited by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons. The program through the Cancer Committee coordinates the Cancer Registry activities and a multitude of cancer services, including the Cancer Control Center of Harlem (CCCH) which assists the primary physician in significantly decreasing the number of patients lost to follow-up. The CCCH services include early detection and screening promotion programs, diagnostic and treatment of cancer, patient navigation program, early rehabilitation and various clinical research protocols. The CCCH has been pivotal with regards to identifying and tracking patients with malignancies. Complementing the activities of the CCCH are Upper Manhattan Physicians against Cancer Project and the Women’s Health Partnership/Colorectal Screening and Prostate Cancer Education Initiative. Harlem Hospital is proud to be one of the hospitals contributing leadership toward the development of New York’s first state cancer control plan. Our patients, under difficult circumstances, receive excellent cancer care, which includes early diagnostic facilities and detection for cancer of the breast, cervix, prostate, and colon. Additionally, they receive proper surgical care after initial assessment, adjuvant radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other supportive care. An effort is made to bring all patients for follow-up care.

Other Programs

Harlem Hospital has other unique programs that are designed as models of care for inner city poor communities. The programs include:

Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center

One of America's oldest programs provides diagnosis, prenatal diagnosis, counseling and genetic counseling.

Asthma Prevention Project

Our Asthma Center is one of only six such clinical research centers in the country. While 4% of the national population suffers from asthma, in Harlem that figure approaches 20%. In 1991, the Harlem Asthma Research Team, a group of doctors and scientists from the Harlem Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, began to seek the causes and solutions for this health problem. The Asthma Prevention Project, part of that program, involves a series of clinical studies designed to identify risk factors; to examine frequent Emergency Department asthma care; and to determine the roles of stress, emotions and cultural health practices on asthma morbidity.

Level I Trauma Center/Emergency Services

Harlem Hospital's is a Level I Trauma Center and is also designated by the American Heart Association as a facility equipped to handle heart emergencies and cardiac arrest, treats patients with severe traumas and other major health crises.  It is also a Stroke Center for the City.  Additionally, the Burn Unit within the hospital is certified by New York State Emergency Medical Services Burn Center. The hospital's Urgent Care Center is a unit within the Emergency Department that treats people with non-life-threatening medical problems. This unit also refers patients to their primary care provider for follow-up treatment.

Bariatric Center of Excellence

Harlem Hospital is recognized as a Bariatric Center of Excellence by the American College of Surgeons and is one of the few such centers in the City of New York within the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

National Model TB Center

This model center was established with a national grant to expand Harlem's ability to treat and provide services to tuberculosis patients. The center uses a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach for treating patients, in order to maximize compliance and improve outcomes. The award-winning model Tuberculosis Clinic, one of only three in the nation, has reduced active tuberculosis cases in Harlem by 75% between 1992 and the present.

Pediatric Injury Prevention Program

This program exemplifies the American Hospital Association's vision of a restructured delivery system through collaborative initiatives. Dedicated to reducing childhood injury by providing safe play areas, the program provides both supervised activities and injury prevention education to children and parents. To date, the program has orchestrated the building of 35 school playgrounds, and plans are underway for more. Through its Bike Smart effort, all third-grade students in the district are taught street and bike safety. Since the program's launch, there has been a 48% decrease in major injury hospital visits by Harlem children.

Program for AIDS Initiatives

The AIDS initiative program provides screening for all HIV patients and for those at highest risk for the disease. It also coordinates treatment; offers psychological and social services; and provides inpatient, emergency, post-discharge and alternate care, such as hospice or long-term home health care.


In summary, Harlem Hospital is the largest health facility in Harlem treating the most seriously ill within the community. Harlem Hospital has one of the finest trauma teams in the nation, and the new Urgent Care Center has reduced waiting time in the 911-designated, Level 1 Emergency Department. Special Asthma Treatment and Pediatric Emergency Units provide specialized care. The Burn Unit provides specialty plastic and reconstructive surgery for prevention of hypertrophic scarring unique to the minority community.  The Bariatric Unit is very well recognized for its excellence in the city. 

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