Harris County will purchase Riverside General Hospital in Houston’s Third Ward, and revive it as a mental health facility.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to purchase Riverside out of federal bankruptcy. That’s the first step in what’s expected to be a seven-year process. Houston Endowment will help raise the $18 million the county will need to refurbish the building.

In its new incarnation, Riverside will house a clinic for the underserved Third Ward. The Hospital will be converted into an integrated primary and mental health care outpatient facility to re-establish access to health care for the historic Third Ward community. It will also let Harris County divert some mentally ill individuals out of the jail system. Judge Ed Emmett said, though, that this will do little to relieve the pressure on the jail, considered one of the largest mental health providers in Texas.

Riverside opened in 1927 as the Houston Negro Hospital. The hospital was plagued by mismanagement and scandal in its final years. Former Riverside president Earnest Gibson III, his son, and two of his colleagues were convicted of Medicare fraud in 2014. The hospital declared bankruptcy two years later, after an audit proved Riverside misused a $32 million Hurricane Ike recovery grant from FEMA.

“The renovation of Riverside Hospital will continue the hospital’s legacy that started in 1927 of serving Houstonians – particularly Black Houstonians. When Riverside Hospital opened in 1927 in the historic Third Ward, it was Houston’s first non-profit hospital for Black patients,” said State Rep. Garnet Coleman.

“With the approval of the Harris County’s Commissioner’s Court and the bankruptcy court, this is the beginning, not the end. Other state and local entities will also be involved in the operation of the integrated primary and mental health care outpatient facility–to be announced later in this endeavor,” Coleman added.

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