An Interview With Frankie Manning
(From the April Retiree Advocate)
"Before we integrated hospitals, the majority of Black people who died in the hospital died because the Black hospitals and wards were not well equipped..."
By Angie Bartels
From the time she was a child, a question gnawed at Frankie Manning’s
mind. She was too young to express it, and besides, those things weren’t talked about at that time, but nonetheless, she wondered why “you would have people cook your food, but they couldn't sit at the table and eat with you.” Her grand-father was the last member of his family born into slavery, and what she did un-derstand from him and her parents was that all people had value, not because of the color of their skin, but because they are human beings.
Ms. Frankie was born in Caldwell, Texas, a small town near College Station, which is home to Texas A&M. She was one of 10 children and grew up in the 1940s and 50s in this largely rural area when much of the United States was segregated. “And of course, all of health care was segre-gated. My family had lots of animals, and we grew all our food during those times. One of the things I learned is to take care of animals. And I was surprised as a teen-ager when I went to a hospital where one of my teachers was having her first child. I saw the conditions, and I thought it was fascinating that people treated humans less than we did our animals. It was one of the things that influenced my decision to become a nurse. The rest of my life is history, because I spent the last 60 years working as a nurse and nurse manager.”
Ms. Frankie attended St. John School of Nursing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and gradu-ated in 1960. She quickly realized that all Black people were segregated into one part of the hospital called the Black wards – one for men and another for women. All of the Black patients were mixed in together regardless of diagnosis, whereas on the white wards, patients were divided into areas such as Med-Surg, Labor and Delivery, Infectious Disease, Mental Health, and so on. On the Black wards, there was absolutely no privacy. When the ward filled up, patients were discharged.
“I noticed on my very first night at work that everything about the Black wards equipment, while the Black wards had old rusty things. Even the linen was sub-standard, and there was never enough of it on the Black wards. The supply closet was very limited, and you had to borrow. The white wards had separate clean and soiled utility rooms, while these rooms were combined into one on the Black wards, creating a high risk for infection and contamination. The big one was that a patient right out of surgery could be placed in a room with somebody who had an infection. That did not happen on the white wards – we always separated them out. You had to work twice as hard on the Black wards because of lack of resources.
“I've known great nurses, no matter what color they are, great doctors, no matter what color they are. And much of this has nothing to do with color as much as it has to do with how human beings are valued. And I can tell you, before we integrated hospitals, the majority of Black people who died in the hospital died be-cause the Black hospitals and wards were not well equipped. They certainly weren't staffed well at all. You would have acute care wards in Black hospitals run by nursing assistants or LPNs, because there weren't enough nurses who would work on the Black wards, there weren’t enough nurses period.”
Ms. Frankie chose to work on the Black wards because she knew she was a good nurse, and she wanted to give Black people the same quality care that the whites received. She said that Black people in the community often received little or no medical care at all. There were few Black doctors and nurses, and many people who did go to the hospital died. So there was little incentive or trust in the system. Those who survived their hospital stay often came home with secondary problems, such as infections that were contracted in the hospital.
“When I went to Dover, Delaware, in 1962, I was the first RN who worked on the Black ward. All the rest were LPNs. So the standards for providing care to Black people were very poor. We had a staph outbreak, and it was primarily with our
babies. We were taking the newborns out of the nursery to be with their mothers in the ward. The mothers were in the same ward as people with all kinds of infec-tions. The babies were coming back into the nursery with staph. We even had a baby who died. So that motivated us to change. I was in charge of the newborn nursery at the time. I said to the admin-istration 'We are not going to take the babies out to the ward,' because once I learned what we were doing, that there was an infant who died because of this, it made no sense to me. The chief of pedi-atrics agreed with me, and that caused a big stir in the hospital. But we moved the Black mothers over onto the white mater-nity ward, and after a couple of months, people stopped talking about it, and the babies got to be with their mothers."
Ms. Frankie loved working with veter-ans. By 1965, when the Medicare Act was passed by Congress, she was working in a US military hospital in Japan where patients were not segregated by race. The Medicare Act required hospitals to desegregate in order to receive Medi-care reimbursement. Over a period of just a few months, hundreds of hospitals throughout the United States closed their Black wards and integrated their Black patients into the general hospital population. Ms. Frankie went on to have a very prolific career in nursing and nursing leadership.
“We cannot eliminate Medicare or Medicaid. We have to make health care accessible to everyone, regardless of the sickness or ability to pay. My vision for an improved health care system would be one that is not so fragmented. When you’re in the hospital you see one doctor, the hospitalist; when you’re discharged, you have to go to many specialists. It’s crazy and so expensive! And we have to figure out how we can provide mental health care just like we provide care when someone cuts their leg, for instance. It’s unfortunate that we don’t treat many people beyond the emergency room. We have the knowledge and the resources to help our brothers and sisters. We can fix this, but unfortunately, it’s a matter of economics.”
Ms. Frankie Manning, RN, BSN, MNA, worked over 60 years as a nurse, nurse manager, and adjunct professor at the University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, and Seattle University Schools of Nursing. She is currently retired and a longtime member of PSARA.
Angie Bartels is PSARA's Membership VP. This is one of a series of interviews she's doing with PSARA members.