Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alabama Psychiatric Hospitals Will Soon Be Ghosts

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

4 comments:

jrcolle1975 said...

Kind of scary in and of itself that some residents of these facilities need the kind of care they were intended to provide. I live about an hour from Searcy and would love the chance to visit when it closes, legally of course. Then again some may say for my own safety that may not be the best idea because of my own semi-connection with it (no... never a patient an nd no relative was... may explain later). My mother actually worked at Rusk State Hospital in Texas and some of the atrocities that aeven occured in the 1970home and 1980you are sad in these facilities. The patients deserved better care than some employees provided (which is why she quit). But the possibility of residual hauntings and history is awesome, not to mention architecture from the period.

Heart Centered Psychic said...

Ahh.. there is something so hauntingly sad about any such buildings; be they psychiatric, or hospitals in general. There are certain areas; I specifically don't care for; as you know. Chidren, and tragedy are truly bother me. I've never had suffered anything tragic personally; yet I am certain I would be one that would have be 'insane' and suffered at the hands of others.

I truly hope you are allowed in; given your history there. I fervently hope so!

Jeffery said...

It's extrememly dissapointing news Jess! The reality is that these people will end up in Privately Operated criminal Detention facilities after commiting uncontrollable acts due to frusration or desperation. Any savings made in one area will end up being spent on law enforcement facilities and staff and just create more anxiety within the community..Viscious circle!

Gummerfan said...

Yep, we found out about this a week or so ago. One of my wife's former coworkers toldher about it. my wife worked at the Lurleen Wallace Center,(aka "Wally World") and then after it closed she worked at AL Regional (aka "The Hill"} before she was sidelined with her back.