This month Alabama announced its intentions to close all but two of its psychiatric hospitals. As an Alabama mental health professional, I saw this news as devastating. I've worked in inpatient psychiatric care for 4 years. The hospital I worked in was for short term care, three to five days was our average length of stay. Our biggest problem and my greatest challenge was trying to find sufficient aftercare for the seriously mentally ill. There are virtually no group homes available for the mentally ill and the state hospitals were near impossible to get into, but at least they were there. When we had chronic patients that were a consistent danger to themselves and others, the state hospital were an option. When we had a man come in who insisted he was going to kill his children, we could release him to the state hospital. Apparently, that option will be gone in Alabama. Where will he go? Nobody knows.
According to the New York Times this is what the state says:
"By May 2013, the state plans to have two remaining state mental health hospitals, one for criminal suspects and another for geriatric patients. Nearly all of the 524 other mentally ill patients will get treatment at group homes and community centers, which are less expensive and give them more freedom, state officials say. "
This would be lovely if there were adequate community centers and homes, which there aren't, and if such homes were sufficiently staffed to take care of people who are dangers to themselves and others, which they aren't. So I am saddened by this news. I am sad to see the state hospitals go and I am sad for the many patients and for all the hundreds of state employees that will soon lose their jobs. I am sad for all the patient who have begged for more care when there was none available. As a memorial to the Alabama state hospitals, I'm going to post about the ghosts of these hospitals this week. Here is my post about the ghosts Searcy State Hospital, one of the many hospitals that is soon to be a ghost itself.
Searcy is one of my favorite haunted places. I did my internship here a very long time ago and I fell in love with it's history and it's white chipped walls. Everything about this old hospital spoke to me. It was even more remarkable because most of those who worked there and lived there every day were oblivious to it's history. Searcy State Hospital is located in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Prior to being a state hospital the old hospital has a long and dark history that is very difficult to find, but easy to see upon casual observation. The hospital is encased in long, chipped, white walls that seem as old as anything in the United States. From outside these walls, you can see a battered watchtower that gives testament to the fact that the hospital is in the same location as a 300 year old fort. The fort bears witness to American history. It was originally a French fort and then a Spanish Fort. It switched hands during the Louisiana Purchase and became a US fort. After the US took possession of the fort it was converted to a military arsenal and became known as the Mount Vernon Arsenal.
The Arsenal switched hands again several times and was taken by the Confederates during the civil war only to be passed back over the United States again in 1862. From 1887 to 1894, The Arsenal became a Barracks and was used as a prison for the captured Apache people. The most famous of the Apache people to be held in these barracks was Geronimo. There is a door in the lobby of the old hospital that is labeled as the door to Geronimo's cell. It is beautiful and intricate. Sadly, history notes that Geronimo was not kept in a cell during his stay at Mt. Vernon. He was allowed freedom to wander the barrack, so the door is just a lovely bit of folklore. The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point after his notorious gun fight.
In 1900 the Barracks were transformed once again and the prison became a mental hospital. Searcy hospital was built as the African American mental hospital in Alabama. Conditions in the hospital were beyond questionable and at one time there were over 2000 patients in the crowded hospital and all were seen by one psychiatrist. All patients were expected to work in the fields.
The hospital was desegregated in 1969, but it’s history is all around it. The hospital is still in used today, and although the residents live in new buildings, many tell stories of ghosts and devils that linger in the white walls and abandoned buildings that surround the new facilities. These stories are usually ignored, because the patients are crazy, but I’m not the only sane person who saw a few ghosts while they were working there.
To read more about the state hospital closures go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/17/us/alabama-plans-to-shut-most-mental-hospitals.html