Pennsylvania Hospital Closures

While in some states such as Virginia and Oregon state hospitals are being rebuild, if on a smaller scale than previously, Pennsylvania is actually closing state hospitals. Allentown State Hospital is the latest of its hospitals to get the axe.


Up to 125 people from ASH and Wernersville State Hospital (WeSH) will return to communities of their choice, and up to 65 will transfer from ASH to WeSH. Although it would be ideal if every person was discharged to the community, mental health advocates and providers endorse DPW’s decision, as it will enable the reintegration of approximately 125 people into the community and support community-based recovery and the development of recovery services that work.

I don’t think anybody could say it better than a state resident and ex-patient.

“Having been a psychiatric patient myself, both in the community and a state hospital, I have experienced the full spectrum of treatment,” said Pennsylvania resident Dan Craig. “I learned to participate in the community and form relationships by living in the community. Having mental illness symptoms doesn’t limit the possibilities of anyone’s life. Everyone is capable of holding jobs, volunteering, being a member of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, participating politically, or going back to school. These are all things that build our society, and enhance everyone’s quality of life. Recovery is possible for everyone!”

State hospital care is very costly. It is more cost effective to take care of people in the community.

Advocates point to the recent closings of three state hospitals as examples of the benefits of community integration.

— In December 2008, Mayview State Hospital (MHS) closed, discharging
individuals from Allegheny, Beaver, Lawrence, and Washington Counties
to their communities, where they continue to receive regular,
individualized, tailored supports around behavioral health, housing,
employment, education, social activities, and physical health. A year
later, a majority of those discharged into the community continue to
reside in community-based residences.
— Harrisburg State Hospital (HSH) closed in January 2006, with 187 of
the 289 discharged individuals moving into the community. In a report
issued one year later, the overwhelming majority of these residents
remained in their communities thanks to ongoing, community-based care
and services.
— In 1990 Philadelphia State Hospital (PSH) closed its doors. Five years
later, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that the
overwhelming majority of those released at closure were living
successfully in the community.

Other states in the union need to perk up their ears, and pay attention to what’s going on in states like Pennsylvania where deinstitutionalization is actually becoming a reality. Part and parcel of this deinstitutionalization is community integration, that is, housing and jobs rather than jails and tent cities.

3 Responses

  1. In Australia, I think all the big old asylums built in Victorian times or a little later have been closed, demolished or converted. And I watched “The Changeling” a few hours ago, and sure, since the advent of chlorpromazine and anaesthetic for ECT things are not the SAME as the bad old days. But I bet that for a lot of people since the 1950’s things were and are still worse.

    Here we are in 2010 and things seem to be better overall for most people who have been diagnosed with a “chronic serious mental illness”. But you and I know of course that a terrible thing made better can still be a long way from satisfactory. And if you enter into that argument you can be bamboozled into arguing for IMPROVEMENTS. (Do you have the facility to implement bold and italics for the commentator?)

    We still have a bunch of psych “hospitals” of course, they’re called psych units and they are generally a short walk from the main entrance of a public hospital. They are generally 30, 45, 60 or so beds. They may have a few patients that stay 6 or 12 months or more but most are in and out between about 15 to 30 days.

    But over the last few months I’ve found that there are probably many unobtrusive “residential units” in suburban streets that may house up to 30 people. I know of a few. Ordinary security and gating used by many private residents everywhere helps to disguise these places which are effectively mini asylums. Some may even have a “doctors office” and an ECT device. I wouldn’t put it past our state government to issue licenses to make this possible.

    My experience in hospitals and talking to others suggests that while things don”t LOOK as grim as in The Changeling it’s really only better on the surface.
    In the movie the heroine and the two heroes order the release of all patients who had been sectioned by the police.

    But increasingly nowadays many people are being sectioned only or largely on the word of the police. It may be that years before they were once sectioned by family or neighbours, but ever since then are sectioned by the police.

    This causes the double bind that we see in the movie where the shrink uses false logic and loaded questioning when interviewing the patient. Even intelligent people when they are highly stressed are unable to recognize or deal with loaded questioning. They look and feel bamboozled which allows the staff to pretend that they are mentally ill.

    I strayed a bit from de-institutilization. But maybe I didn’t. Articles such as you quoted are indeed PR. Essentially nothing has changed.

    • No doubt things are worse for some people. Since the 1950s lobotomies are no longer being performed, and sterilization, if not eliminated altogether, has at least become rarer. Neuroleptic drugs do real harm to people, and the anesthetic used to knock people out during shock treatment does just that, it knocks them out. You definitely get less of an idea of how traumatizing a procedure can be when you are unconscious while it is being conducted.

      If you know a little html, or Hypertext Markup Language, you can embolden or italicize text by using it. If not, all capital letters works fine, and provides the emphasis you might be looking for. (In moderation, of course; excessive use of all capital letters is regarded as shouting.)

      Here in the USA we have group homes and assisted living facilities, and it would take more time and knowledge than I’ve got at present for me to go into the matter in detail. Suffice it to say that these facilities have very much to be desired where treatment is concerned as a rule.

      I wouldn’t say that nothing has changed. Community based care is a tremendous improvement over the sort of care provided in the state hospitals. In one instance in the above piece 125 people are released from the state hospital system back into the community, and in another that figure is 187. These are real improvements, and in a time when the economy is a mess, they are cost effective improvements as well. Hospitalization is expensive.

  2. […] 7, 2010 by Astrid A few days ago, the author of Lunatic Fringe commented on the closure of Pennsylvania state hospitals as a positive thing. On the same day, however, Crazy Mermaid commented on the shortage of […]

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