Albert Mauro served in the army from 1948 to 1954. Mauro led the charge on financing better public health-care in Kansas City. Mauro assisted with the consolidation of the two racially segregated General Hospitals, eventually becoming director of the consolidated facility. Working with Community Studies, Mauro was made interim director of the Kansas City General Hospital and Medical Center Corporation. He then served as planning coordinator for Hospital Hill’s development from 1963 to 1975. Today, Truman Medical Center, along with a number of other affordable medical schools and facilities, can be found on Hospital Hill.
Albert Mauro – Accidental Activist
by Deborah Keating
Albert Mauro grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, a town he remembered as “an interesting melting pot of all kinds [with] a very significant Jewish population, there were blacks and Italians and Polish.” Yale University was central to the community, and its sense of civic responsibility impressed upon him the benefits of interaction between the public and private sectors, which influenced him in his future career.
Before he could launch his career, the Army drafted Mauro. With President Truman’s 1948 executive order mandating integration of the armed services, shortly after he arrived, Mauro witnessed integration overnight. He recalled, “… at 6 o’clock in the morning, we were all awakened. We had to fall out in front of our barracks, and they called your name off, and you immediately were transferred.
That day…,” he explained. “They mixed up all the officers. By the end of the day, this all-white company had a mixture of blacks and whites. And there you were. And you became very close friends overnight.” Mauro’s experience with forced integration and how quickly a community adjusted to the change gave him a frame of reference when faced with similar situations working in the public sector.
After leaving the Army in 1954, Mauro came to Kansas City. The city had financial difficulties and the postwar economy added to the city’s struggle. Both private and government entities worked together to identify innovative ways to solve the city’s growing needs. The City Planning Commission described the road to prosperity in a ten-year master plan published in 1947 that addressed social concerns such as new schools and improvement in the city’s public hospitals. Implementation of the plan fell to City Manager L.P. Cookingham.
In 1954 L.P. Cookingham hired Al Mauro to work in the city’s Budget Department. He charged Mauro with evaluating the expenditures of the Health Department, which oversaw the city’s public hospitals. Originally there was one volunteer general hospital that served both the white and minority poor of the city. This hospital was spatially segregated, meaning that blacks were isolated in separate wards. In 1908, the city built a new General Hospital for poor whites and instituted a segregated system of publicly funded health care. It turned the old hospital over to the African-American community to care for blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. The new hospital was named General Hospital No. 2. In 1914, African-American doctors proudly assumed total administrative control of General Hospital No. 2, and fifty-five of Kansas City’s eighty black doctors donated their services by 1953.
General Hospital No. 2 was substandard. A survey funded by the Chamber of Commerce in 1931 provided the most detailed description of conditions at General Hospital No. 2. The general impression of the facility, according to the Chamber’s survey, was that “it was not planned by one familiar with the administration of a hospital.” The hospital was overcrowded and 179 beds occupied space designed for 110. Storage for dangerously flammable x-ray films did not meet fire codes; there were insufficient fire extinguishers, and no emergency lighting system.
Reports pointed to staffing deficiencies at General Hospital No. 2 as well. The average annual employee salary at General Hospital No. 2 was $761.69 compared to $843.41 for General Hospital No. 1 employees. Staffing ratios for General Hospital No. 2 were also substandard. The most far-reaching deficiencies were the lack of residency programs for African-American doctors.
These events happened before Mauro came to Kansas City. His concern was, he recalled, “They had two nursing schools, can you believe that? They had two emergency rooms … Because the whole city was segregated.” The racial segregation in Kansas City’s hospitals struck Mauro as unacceptable and financially inefficient. In 1956, he recommended that the city combine General Hospital No. 2 with General Hospital No. 1, estimating that merging them would save $700,000 to $800,000 annually. Additionally, he argued that consolidation would ensure that the best qualified doctor or nurse would care for patients, regardless of race.
During a City Council budget meeting at the Kansas City Club in 1956, the Council accepted Mauro’s recommendation with little debate. Mauro remembered, “The next day, I went to the hospital to meet with the staff. Oh, they were not pleased at all. They were telling me it wouldn’t work.” Mauro challenged them, “What do you mean it won’t work? You’ve got enough beds here.” The staff argued there were not enough toilets. Mauro recalled saying, “What do you mean, you don’t have enough toilets? You’ve got enough now. Are you telling me you don’t have enough space to have black and white toilets? And they thought I was a wise guy.” Even after combining the buildings, it was obvious that the staff still believed segregation would continue.
Consolidation meant integration, which challenged the social mores of a city steeped in southern tradition. Many of the African-American staff resisted the move, fearing for their jobs, but the biggest resistance came from the white staff. “Luckily, we had people like Dr. Marty Mueller and Dr. Blane Hibbard, and a few others who served in the Army during the Second World War… When they came back, they had a whole different view of how things should be done,” he explained.
Despite the city’s promise that no one would lose their job, combining positions meant people were displaced and moved into positions with less authority or visibility. Mauro remembered that this was not always easy: “Now we made it clear there would only be one director of nursing . . . So we had to pick the person who was better—most qualified.” When the black and white staffs merged, those thought most qualified received the job and, according to Mauro, “in almost every instance, it happened to be a white person.” The black staff lost the autonomy they took pride in for so long. The trade-off was job security. The city guaranteed each continued employment as long as they performed in their assigned job.
Later, as acting Director of General Hospital, Mauro continued honoring the commitment. “We pledged that nobody would lose their job. And I had to make certain [of] that even when I ended up running it; when I became the Executive Director,” Mauro said. “They tried to fire people, and I said, ‘Wait a while. You can’t fire them. Unless they’ve done something criminal, our responsibility is [to keep them employed]. I don’t want any budgetary excuse ‘cause we’re going to keep these people on.”
Even with the benefits from the consolidation, city leaders had to continue exploring ways to manage the budget, often at the cost of social services for the poor. To make matters worse, L.P. Cookingham resigned and Al Mauro left the city Budget Department in 1959. Homer Wadsworth and Community Studies stepped in to fill the management vacuum, joining forces with Nathan Stark, Hallmark Card’s vice president of operations. Together, they proposed the formation of a separate corporation to contract with the city to manage the General Hospitals. When the city accepted the plan in June 1962, Wadsworth hired Al Mauro to work for Community Studies and implement the agreement.
Mauro’s first job at Community Studies was to help create the not-for-profit corporation to manage the consolidated General Hospital. Mauro served as the interim director of the new corporation known as Kansas City General Hospital and Medical Center Corp. (KCGHMC) while it searched for a permanent executive director.
Wadsworth’s master plan called for development of Hospital Hill into a medical enclave with a new hospital and a medical school. After KCBHMC hired a permanent Executive Director, Mauro served as planning coordinator for Hospital Hill’s development from 1963 to 1975. At the time, Children’s Mercy Hospital was looking for a new location, and Mauro and KCGHMC lured it to Hospital Hill. They also successfully negotiated with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Dental School to locate its new facility on Hospital Hill rather than on the Volker campus.
Meanwhile, the consolidated General Hospital deteriorated. Since many General Hospital patients lived outside the city limits but still in Jackson County, Mauro and KCGHMC felt that Jackson County should help fund a new facility. Mauro knew that the county wanted a bond initiative to build a new sports stadium. “I went to Harold [Fridken]…and I said, ‘Harold, you don’t have anything in [this bond proposal]…to deal with the needs of the public. What you really need to do, put an amount in there so we can build a new hospital. And if the county will build a hospital, we’ll make sure they don’t have to worry about the operating costs.’”
Mauro explained the importance of the negotiation to the continued success of Hospital Hill’s growth: “We had to make sure that we focused on the hospital and we weren’t worried about all the other political shenanigans.” In June 1967, Jackson County submitted a $102 million bond proposal to voters that included $14 million for a new hospital as well as $2 million for upgrades to Jackson County Hospital. The bond passed overwhelmingly. The county funded the hospitals’ building, the city funded the patient costs, and KCGHMC managed the entire operation.
Mauro, still employed by Community Studies, Inc., functioned as Director of Plans and Construction for the new hospital. In November 1979 the new hospital, now known as Truman Medical Center, finally opened. Mauro became Associate Director until the hospital hired a permanent head. He then moved on to help the Truman Medical Center Charitable Foundation in 1980.
Today, Truman Medical Center sits in the center of Hospital Hill. In 2013, TMC Hospital Hill released a report that summarized the widespread community need for its services and highlighted the important work that Al Mauro and others had undertaken. It stated that TMC “serves a number of special populations, in addition to the general population of the service area. These populations tend to be low income, high risk patients with care needs that exceed those of the general population.” The need for quality medical care for Kansas City’s low-income population is as necessary, if not more so, as when Homer Wadsworth and Al Mauro first began the campaign to build Hospital Hill.
Al Mauro’s contributions to Kansas City continued even after he left Community Studies. Mauro served as Chairman of the Downtown Council, Chairman of the Eye Foundation of Kansas City, President of Lyric Opera, as well as serving on numerous boards FOR philanthropic organizations. Mauro’s last major civic role was as President of the Kansas City Missouri School District. All these efforts are stories unto themselves and each provide examples of leadership that helped Kansas City grow economically and culturally. Albert Mauro does not consider himself an activist but in the true sense of the word, as one involved in “direct vigorous action,” Mauro is the example for others to follow.