‘The Color of Medicine’ spotlights longtime Methodist physician

Film about Dr. Earle Robinson Jr. and his connection to a historic black hospital will be screened free for IU Health employees in celebration of Black History Month.

When Dr. Joe Baele, an orthopedics physician at IU Health Methodist Hospital, learned about a documentary that features longtime Methodist OB-GYN Earle Robinson Jr., he knew he wanted to see it. But more than that, he wanted others to see it.

So Dr. Baele dug into his own pocket ($2,500) to finance the screening of “The Color of Medicine” for all IU Health employees this month, in concert with the IU Health Office for Diversity and Inclusion and in honor of Black History Month. The first screening is at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday (Feb. 19). A second has been added at 5 p.m. March 29. Both will be held in Petticrew Auditorium at Methodist, 1701 N. Senate Ave. Admission is free.

The movie documents the history of medical training and care for African-Americans at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which opened in 1937 in St. Louis. It was the first teaching hospital west of the Mississippi River to serve blacks. Dr. Robinson is a second-generation physician and alumnus of the hospital training program, and his father was one of the first 27 interns at the hospital in the 1930s.

“My father … and his classmates were on their way to Kansas City to intern at Kansas City General,” Dr. Robinson says in a trailer for the film. They had to change trains in St. Louis and while they were in the train station, a train porter asked where they were headed. When they told him Kansas City, he said, “They just built a colored hospital here and they don’t have any doctors.”

So the group took a taxi to the hospital to check it out and decided to stay after learning the pay ($10 a month, plus room and board) would be the same as what was promised in Kansas City.

The young doctors would go on to change medical history in St. Louis and beyond.

“When the hospital opened up, it gave patients facilities that were second to none,” Dr. Robinson said.

The all-black hospital, which served patients and trained doctors for 42 years, opened at a time when there were fewer than 40 black specialists in the country.

Dr. Robinson, a longtime OB-GYN at Methodist who retired a decade ago, will be on hand with his daughter, Rebecca Robinson-Williams, for both screenings and will sit for a question-and-answer session after the film.

Dr. Baele, who grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood in South Bend, said his parents set an example for him and his siblings for how everyone should be treated. When he first came to Methodist in the 1980s, he said it troubled him that more doctors of color weren’t affiliated with larger medical groups. “They were on their own.”

As a young resident and then an ortho surgeon, he knew of Dr. Robinson. They saw one another in the surgeons’ lounge and in the cafeteria. But that was about it.

“I worked around him, not with him. He was delivering babies and I was fixing fractures.”

Now the two are Facebook friends, but Baele said the fact that Dr. Robinson is featured in the film should resonate with current employees.

“I thought it would be cool for folks to see one of our own get a movie. There are still people here who worked with him. They need to see it.”

The film runs about one hour and 20 minutes, followed by the Q and A. Light snacks will be provided. Employees should wear their ID badge when entering the hospital.

–- By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org