Episode 27: From Insane Asylum to Psychiatric Center: A Brief History

MichaelHistory of Psychology, Therapy68 Comments

Join me for an interview with Dr. Roger Christenfeld, Research Director of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center. Dr. Christenfeld and I talk about how psychiatric patients were treated in the heyday of this incredible center. I think you’d be surprised at some of the things he has to say. Below you’ll find both an audio version and a video version of this same interview.

More on the history of asylums: an interview with Historian Jennifer Bazar on what life was like in asylums during the 1800s


68 Comments on “Episode 27: From Insane Asylum to Psychiatric Center: A Brief History”

  1. Vincent Hevern

    Years and years ago, I had a bit of contact with Hudson River State Hospital (HRSH) as a volunteer in the Hillcrest School for Children. I now teach Abnormal Psychology and found the interview with Dr. Christenfeld fascinating. I’ve assigned my current class the job of listening to it sometime over the next week so that we can discuss it a bit in class. My own comments about the HRSH and the podcast are in my weblog, Storied Conduct, at this link.

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  4. Tim D (ex-patient 1969-72)

    In response to the podcast “From Insane Asylum To Psychiatric Center” (8/28/07) , I must state that the “country club” ambiance of H. R. S. H. was restricted solely to the paid employees at the complete exclusion of the patients except for some very basic play activities such as baseball. According to numerous older patients, the gardening program was great therapy, but when it was abolished because they would have to pay the patients minimum wage, it was right back to the boring wards. The Hillcrest building was never deserving of the title “school” or "Academy" because the educational program was so substandard, that those of us who were eventually discharged would re-enter the public school system a least a few grades behind. So H. R. S. H. was highly comparable to a medieval manor where the patients were the cerfs. Incidentally, when we at Hillcrest were taken out trick or treating for Halloween, it was always the day before or the day after because Halloween was the day where the children of the employees who lived on the grounds would trick or treat. How’s that for apartheid! Thus de-institutionalization had to occur as a matter of basic civil rights.

  5. Michael

    Very interesting Tim. Thank you for sharing your insights. I’ll try to get ahold of Dr. Christenfeld and let him know about your post and see if he has a response. Again thanks.

    Michael

  6. Tim D

    To both Dr. Christenfeld AND Mr. Britt:

    Considering that it is only from ex-patients that the most graphic insights can be obtained as to how these people were treated and what actually went on in these warehouses for the mentally ill, I find it stultifying that neither of you sought contact with any of us prior to conducting such an interview. But if you ever decide to update this interview and you can reinburse me for my Metro North expense from where I live in NYC, I would be happy to comply. In adendum to my previous incidental, if you were in H. R. S. H. and did not have parents who gave you money for your own toothpaste, you were forced to brush your teeth with this unflouridated tooth power that is typically issued to prisoners. If you couldn’t afford your own soap, they made you use a really harsh type that was produced on the hospital grounds, had a medicinal smell, looked like a brick with sharp corners, and had "N. Y." stamped into it. We kids called it “state soap.” This, the "low-foam detergent" that they also made on the grounds, and the cleaning solvents we had to use when we were forced to do our daily “ward work” all combined to produce a unique industrial smell which, even if you were blind would remind you when you first got back from a “vacation” home that you weren’t home.

    Sincerely,

    Timothy D

  7. Tim D

    Sorry to bother you two again, but I have yet a few more examples of how we were treated that should clarify just what went on there in finer detail:

    Believe it or not, we were never given regularly scheduled psychotherapeutic appointments with the psychiatrist that was in charge of our building. Whenever I asked the head ward nurse about when I could see Dr. Lenic or Dr. Sarmiento privately in his office, I was always told “You can talk to the doctor when he makes his rounds.”
    But when he did so and I asked him the same question, his reply was always “Whenever I’m up here, that’s my office.” During my last year there, when Dr. Sarmiento would have group discussions with all of us on the ward, they would only focus on how we were getting along and about ward priviledges. No efforts were made by these doctors whatsoever to start up programs that were more geared towards meeting the needs of the individual resident (except for when I was allowed to take a hospital bus to Cheney to take a typing class) and almost none of the dehumanizing treatments imposed on us at Hillcrest were ever changed. Their version of plan B, for the most part, was simply to forcefeed plan A. Also, if any of our problems resulted from or were intensified by how our families treated us, they would never talk with the entire family in an effort to correct this. Their philosophy was that responsibility for rehabilitation rested entirely with the patient, no matter how the procedures, staff or family drove the patient crazy.

  8. Tim D

    Oh, one more thing. I’m surprised that nothing was mentioned in your interview about the incident that happened at Cheney where two of the ward attendants were arrested and almost put in prison for killing a patient while sitting on him in order to restrain him. When these two workers were brought to trial, H. R. S. H.’s defense team was so good that they were acquitted and were right back on the job. All of this serves as testament to the fact that we live in a country where acquittals can be bought (like with O. J. Simpson) and what I honestly think is the greatest lesson to have come out of the 20th century: No school, hospital, church, branch of government, or any institution devised by man can ever again be completely trusted to function in the best interest of man. All such institutions must be counter-policed by the very people they are employed to serve or supervise, as well as their loved ones, and we can’t afford to let posterity forget this.

  9. Tim D

    Sorry, but now that the awful memories of how we were treated at Hillcrest are flowing out like a waterfall, I still have a few more of them to share with you and your associate
    in the hopes that if you two update this pod cast, it can be done with greater clarity.

    When they’d wake us up every morning, they’d turn the bright lights on when they yelled out “Everybody up, rise and shine!” and it’s a miracle that none of us went blind on account of it. For those who didn’t want to get up, they’d pull the sheets right off of us and rub those large, cold, iron keys against our feet. Though we did get 3 meals a day, it was all bland, unappetizing institutional food that was made over at Ross Pavilion and shipped to us on this “food truck.” If you wanted, you could work in the dining hall but the work all consisted of serving and clean up and they never taught us how to cook. Just like with all that ward work we were forced to do, we were never given any spending allowance in return for it. If any of us kids were nauseated by the ill table manners of the other kids, the attendants would just say something to us like “Slurp back at ’em.” and would never let us change tables. So the only thing that they taught us with regard to manners and decency were simply to put up with everything and to be submissive to those in authority. With regard to the grossly substandard education we got, they didn’t even give grades. The excuse that they would give us would be “Oh you need an awful lot of kids to make grades.” But the problem with that argument was that if grades were always given in one-room school school houses throughout history, why wouldn’t that mean all the teachers needed there were the right materials such as updated textbooks and training? Instead of teaching us things like negative and positive numbers, geometry, and all of the things that characterized the “new math” curriculum the public schools converted to in the 1960’s, they would overkill on basic arithmetical skills and bore us to the point where even if you did have something like A. D. H. D., it only worsened it given that you were doing all this monotonous work, and getting nowhere with it. Back on the ward, when any of us kids would ask the attendants why we were being treated like animals by being forced to stand in line with a bunch of naked kids and having to take those group showers, they’d simply say “You act like animals, so we’ll treat you like animals.”

    So from all of the aforementioned, including what I disclosed in previous blog replies, it should be no wonder why Hillcrest could never be classified as an accredited institution, why it never actually deserved such a title as “school” or "Academy", and that instead of preparing us for possible entrance into higher society, the only thing they prepared us for was a lifetime in institutions such as this one.

  10. Tim D

    By the time I was in Hillcrest, 40 years ago to be exact, there were no more farms, bakeries or slaughterhouses on the grounds (I refuse to refer to the H. R. S. H. grounds as a “campus” because they were not refered to as such back in those days), the baking was all done by unionized state workers, and we patients were all stuck with the remaining dirty work. Our milk products were supplied by Fitchett Bros. Dairy and Pickwick Ice Cream, who were most probably the lowest bidders for the service contract. The ice cream was loaded with artificial additives even though the staff could always afford the more expensive “all natural” products for themselves and THEIR families. Whenever any of us remarked about the occassional oniony taste of the milk, the attendants would say “Oh the cows were probably eating onion grass.” Though there were nice, thoughtful volunteer groups who would set up nice birthday, Christmas, and Easter parties, I remember the last Easter party in 1972 which turned out to be a disaster because someone put salt in the cookies instead of sugar. In spite of this, the staff said we ought to be grateful for the party anyway and we were still forced to clean up after them. To the hospital staff, our feelings meant nothing because we as child patients were viewed as nothing.

  11. Tim D

    To Michael Britt AND Roger Christenfeld:

    Now that I have shared all these awful memories, I was wondering if you could please do some more reseach in order to answer some questions I’ve always had about
    H. R. S. H.:

    1./ Whenever a patient died there, what did the hospital typically do with his or her corpse, particularly if the deceased patient had no remaining family members or ones that actually gave a damn about them? I was told many years ago that H. R. S. H. had its own cemetery, but when I came back many years later after its closing to wander through this ghost town, I could never locate it.

    2./ Why in fact were employees of the hospital allowed to live in nice housing that was right on the hospital grounds, and why were some employees even allowed to construct houses of their own on the grounds? Whenever group homes are started up in the community, there are always neighbors who protest this even though they find nothing wrong with the employees and their undisciplined kids invading OUR areas of residence.

    3./ When the labor unions finally mandated 8 hour work days and higher wages for the hospital employees, why were they still allowed to keep their on grounds housing instead of evicting them and converting them right at that time into half-way housing for stablized patients or outpatients?

    4./ Whenever the sons or daughters of the doctors who lived in beautiful apartments or houses on the H. R. S. H. grounds came of age and were given “coming out to society parties” where many of the other doctors and their spouses would be invited, none of the patients were invited. Why were we discriminated against? Also, whenever an employment anniversary or retirement party would be held for any paid employee, none of the patients were ever invited. Why was this so?

    So with all this testimony you have even more evidence to support my previous statement that “H. R. S. H. was run like a medieval manor where the patients were the cerfs.”

    Your response to this would be most appreciated.

  12. Tim D

    Four more questions:

    5./ Were involuntary sterilizations ever performed at H. R. S. H.?

    6./ Aside from simply overseeing the operations at this big hospital, just what did Dr. Cheney & Dr. Snow do for the patients that was of such monumental significance that they would name buildings on the hospital grounds after them?

    7./ When did the dehumanizing practice start of cutting the hair short of newly admitted patients who had long hair even if they wanted to keep it long and were capable of taking care of it themselves?

    8./ When did it stop?

  13. Tim D.

    9./ Where on the hospital grounds were child patients treated before Hillcrest was opened in the early ’60’s? What type of education were they given? When Hillcrest closed in 1973 or 1974, what building were the kids transfered to who could not be placed in community group housing or foster care and whose parents would not or could not take them home? What type of schooling were they given at that point?

  14. Tim D.

    10./ For the adolescent patients after 1974 who found state equivalency programs unsatisfactory and refused to take that test, were they allowed to go off the H. R. S. H. grounds to attend a public high school where they could take the N. Y. S. Regents College Preparatory program, be in a yearbook, be in a nice high school graduation ceremony, and have all of the nice frills that kids on the outside of the hospital took for granted?

  15. Tim D.

    11./ Prior to 1973, the year when the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was no longer considered a sexual orientation disorder, how were patients at H. R. S. H. treated who were gay or suspected of being gay or lesbian? Were they subjected to dehumanizing treatment in order to force them to “turn straight”? If so, how soon after the 1973 A. P. A. ruling were the staff at H. R. S. H. forced to leave them alone?

  16. Tim D.

    12./ Just down the hill from Hillcrest stood a building we kids were told was “Cottage 9″. But in either 1970 or 71 is was closed and torn down. What type of patients were housed in “the cottages”?

    13./ When you go down the far opposite (north) side of the same hill (where Ross Pavilion was to be exact), go past that underground bomb shelter, and continue north on the same road which leads to Dorsey Street, you go past a little beach which we kids were taken to in 1969 and 1970 to swim in, but was closed that fall, never re-opened, and subsequently turned to swamp. I was told by some friends that the hospital wanted to use this beach to discharge waste, and by others that it would be used to dump expired patient medication. Which answer is correct?

  17. Roger Christenfeld

    Reading Mr. D’s reports of his time in the HRSH adolescent unit, I am sad that his stay was so unpleasant, happy that the scene has improved dramatically in these 40 years, and grateful for his insights. I agree strongly that such first-hand accounts are vital. The major advance in public psychiatry in our time, I believe, is not the improvement in medication but the empowerment of clients and their families in setting goals and selecting treatments. But therapeutic progress has always hinged on thoughtful attention to the patient’s wishes and unfailing respect for our common humanity.
    Unfortunately I cannot answer Mr. D’s specific questions because they concern a time before my own experience. I can say that HRSH never had its own cemetery, and the total grounds are now much reduced, with no staff housing, and no clients under age 18. The brutal practices he cites are now unknown and social events are less invidious, with many parties including both patients and staff.
    Still, this is not a country club but a hospital, where the goal is to restore patients to a rewarding life. That means there is an ethical tension between our need to treat patients as autonomous and our responsibility to care for them, sometimes involving more control than is comfortable. There also remains, as Tim experienced, a conflict between the requirements of an organization and the desires of its individual members, a conflict especially troublesome in congregate living situations. Army barracks and college dorms can also seem impersonal and regimented. Catering to common denominators usually means the food won’t be very tasty.
    We’re still imperfect here, much better than we were, still striving to improve. In all, it’s certainly better to be at liberty, and I wish Mr. D well.

  18. susan elwell

    Yes there was a potters field. It was next to Ross Pav and when they put in a housing unit on Dorsey lane they found the bodies.

  19. susan elwell

    so tim you are right i worked there for 20 years and yes the doctors did live in the nice houses and they used staff for house keeping and a lot of things went on there. Thats why the place is haunted. A lot of angry patents who were used for experiments on drugs and our 8th floor surgerys so tim stick to your guns. its improved but has a long way to to.

  20. miss B

    if this place is so improved why does it look so abandoned i drive by it every weekend. the front by the road looks like a ghost town and is never cleaned up never looks nice and no lights even in the way back of the buildings, doesn’t look like a safe and hopefull environment no flowers not one nice thing to look at on the entire grounds of this place, even the old ball field is over grown barbwire around it the hole damn place looks like a run down prison anyone whom has put a family member in the facility should be ashamed , and there is no excuse for food , bath and other hygein supplies to be so unhealthy for these patients , there should definately be privacy for bathing , the waterbury ct crisis center is suggested if anyone needs to be hospitalized for mental disabilities and rehabilitations as far as you Tim .D you have every right to be angry but you already know the answers to your questions and i know you know damn well no one will ever admit to what went on in there except any one still living that was institutionalized besides your self. Im sorry for what you went through and hope your living a happy life now.

  21. JVB

    I think there is some confusion: Hudson Valley Psychiatric Center, that building is still in use. The enourmous remainder of the unlit, ruined buildings is the Hudson River State Hospital, which has been closed since 2001. Many parts of it were abandoned way before that time. I’m actually researching the past of the HRSH for a story that I’m writing, so this interview and these comments were a great find. Thanks for your insight, Tim D. I would like to know the answers to some of those questions myself.

  22. Tim D.

    Dear J. V. B.:
    I’m sorry to bother you, but please allow ME to resolve this matter of confusion. Since I am a 50 year-old male who was once a patient there (1969-1972), it should only be appropriate that I be the one to do so. The only building that remains of the old. H. R. S. H., and is still in operation today was originally named “Ross Pavillion”, and is only one of three patient buildings constructed for this hospital on the east side of Route 9G
    (Violet Avenue) in the Fairview section of Poughkeepsie. All of the buildings that were on the west side of 9G are now closed. This hospital was later renamed Hudson River
    Psychiatric Center and not Hudson “Valley” Psychiatric Center.

  23. Christine

    Mr. Tim D I am fascinated by all that you have written. I’m so very sorry that you experienced such horrible things so young. I really think you should write a book, or blog on a website. There is sadly very little history about the hospital, especially Hillcrest. It’s like when the buildings were abandoned, people were hoping for the history to be erased. But people like you keep the truth alive. Hope all is well, and thank you for sharing.

  24. James McHugh

    Hello
    Mr. Tim D
    It’s great to find someone who was @ HRSH adolescent unit, Hudson River State. I was sent there @ the age of 14. I was there around the some time as you 1970 – 1971. I also spent time @ the main building on Rt 9. I still live their in my mind,after forty years. The reason for me being there an abusive alcoholic father. My time spent there has been a nightmare of pain my whole life.I need some one to talk about it for some closure in my life for peace of mind. Peace, To you James
    PS: Writing a book on my hell spent there. Would very much like to talk to you or meet with you sometime. 845 679 6418

  25. Tim D.

    Dear Mr. McHugh: (Since I don’t know if you’d rather be called James or Jim, please tell me which.)

    As I said on the recorded message I left you, I would be very happy to meet with you so that we can both share the awful experiences we endured at H. R. S. H. and help us to better deal with them. Since I’m now living in New York City, we would have to agree on a place and time where we can meet, such as in a diner on Main St. or maybe we can walk together through the old grounds. If this is convenient for you, I can come up by
    Metro North. Though I have kept in touch with several of the other people we were there with, please don’t be disappointed if I cannot disclose what they have been doing with their lives because since we are still friends, I cannot violate their confidentiality.
    I will give you the same consideration with respect to the other kids we knew there.

  26. T UniT

    Why meet up and talk about it, just talk about it on this site so we can all learn more about the things that went on there. People are always looking for fun new haunted places to explore. Is it true that they used to dump bodies in burlap bags into the Hudson River of both deceased and mentally ill but still living people? I hear that there is also a sign on the grounds of people who try to get in the building and go missing. Is that true? Also can you tell us more about why NYS would Deny the cast of ghost hunters into the asylum?

  27. Tim D.

    Dear T unitT:

    Since I’m working on my bachelor’s degree, I won’t have any opportunity this year to meet with anyone who needs more information on what this blog is about. But though I would never violate the confidentiality of anyone I knew there, I’m still trying to locate old friends who were there at the same time in the hopes that they will at least look at this blog and decide for themselves if they wish to disclose their own stories of what they experienced there.

    I have absolutely no knowledge of the staff at H. R. S. H. dumping bodies of patients into the Hudson River, whether they were living or deceased, and so I am unable to answer your question. But I do know that New York State law prohibits now prohibits entry by non-hospital employees into any of those old, closed psychiatric center buildings because many of them are condemned and they cannot insure the safety of anyone who enters them. Whether or not the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene is still trying to cover up for how the patients used to be treated there, I have no idea. But if the spirits of the many mistreated patients are still within these old buildings, it would be a gross dishonor to the memories of these victims to film an episode of a program like “Ghost Hunters” there and I think New York State is justified in its prohibition of it. So if H. R. S. H. and all other such old, state hospitals are indeed haunted, they should be.

  28. Toni B. San Filippo

    I also was at HRSH in the old days on the adolesense ward. Things that they did to us kids were very degrading. They would take your dignity from you so they could have a total control. I went through alot of torture in the seclusion rooms and full restraints. I could tellyou stories myself but sometimes it is just too hard to look back. Very frightening, Toni B.

  29. Owen

    I would like to thank everyone that has contributed to this blog. I have never been to H.R.S.H. or had even heard about it until today. I have read all the posting and am in awe of the memory’s that you all have shared with us. I am 25 right now and cant imagine going through what the patients at H.R.S.H. went through. I dont know what to say right now. Thank you for sharing everything with us, your voice needs to be heard.

    I hope all is well and you have found closer in talking to fellow patients.

    I would love to hear more memorys, history of any kind is a story, it should be told so everyone can hear it.

    THANK YOU

  30. Owen

    Have you ever talked to patients from The Danvers State Insane Asylum, in Danvers MA?

  31. Thomas C.

    Dear Tim D.,

    I am now a resident at the Hillcrest site, as part of the Hudson River Housing Program. I find the whole place spooky, and what you have written just enhances that feeling. It’s amazing what these people got away with back then. Do you have anymore info about the treatments given to the children? Also, were all of the brick buildings surrounding the site part of the facility as well? Thanks for any info…….I find your stories fascinating.

    Thanks,
    Tom C.

  32. Tim D.

    Dear Tom C:

    The abandonned brick buildings at the foot of the road that leads up to your building (Lakeview Terrace, if I’m not mistaken) as well as the one you mention just behind where you are between that and the main building for H. R. P. C., were actually low-cost housing facilities built as a fringe benefit for employees of the hospital and their families. Though these were constructed long before H. R. S. H. employees became unionized and they had to work 10 hours days, one of the big scandals reguarding the history of H. R. S. H. was that once they became unionized, they were allowed to continue living in them instead of being evicted in order to convert them to halfway houses for discharged or soon to be discharged patients. Though we kids who were in Hillcrest were not allowed bikes, the children of the employees rode them all of the time on the grounds, and those little barbeque grills that were outside of Ross and Cheney could only be used by employees. In a previous blog reply that I gave on June 1, 2009, I mentioned that “H. R. S. H. was highly comparable to a medieval manor where the patients were the cerfs.” This should serve as yet another reason of why this was so.

    Except for some other things they did to us that I’m still too embarrassed to mention, I feel as though I’ve pretty much covered everything with reguard to the dehumanizing ways in which we were treated. However, I am presently trying to locate other ex-patients I knew there in the hopes that they would be willing to tell their own stories and give that place the exposure that it badly needs. But since this will take a very long time, it is my hope that this blog will never close. I will eventually locate old friends who will tell what happened to them, but I can’t guarantee when. However, if you want to set up a time where I can come up from where I live in New York City by Metro North Rail and meet you, we could take a walk through the grounds and I’ll show you around.

    By the way, could you please tell me what the Hudson River Housing Program is about and what it does?

  33. Tom C.

    Dear Tim D. ,

    The following is from the HRH website…………………..Hillcrest House
    Hillcrest House offers a supportive environment with 58 units of housing for adults transitioning out of homelessness. Residents may stay at Hillcrest House for up to two years, and during their stay they must pay monthly rent (based on their income) and participate in Hillcrest House’s on-site meal plan. Each resident is assigned a Case Manager to assist them in obtaining community services/resources and in pursuing their goals of achieving greater self-sufficiency as they move toward more permanent housing. Interested applicants must complete an application and participate in a screening process and an interview in order to be accepted at Hillcrest House. For further information, download application and requirements here.

    So basically it’s a program to help people transition to independent living. I wish I could find some old pictures of Hillcrest itself. Thanks for answering my inquiry.
    I would be very interested in meeting with you to give me a tour, so to speak. I am open any weekend day…..just let me know. Thanks again, Tom C

  34. Tim D.

    To Michael Britt:

    For the reasons stated above, please do not delete your “From Insane Asylum to Psychiatric Center” podcast or this blog. In the event that I should locate other people who were there at the same time and get them to talk about what they experienced there, it will benefit this blog even more. But like I said earlier, since it will not only take along time to locate and convince these people that it would be beneficial to give their stories, I’m begging you to please be patient for a few more years.

    Thanks again,

    Tim D.

  35. Michael

    Tim D: as I mentioned in a previous post, I do think it would be to the benefit of everyone if you took this conversation to another blog – one of your own creation. This blog is designed primarily for undergraduate students in psychology and the conversation above is designed for a more specific audience.

    However, I respect your need to connect with others who share your experiences, and I know that creating a blog is not for everyone, so I have no plans to delete this episode or your posts.

  36. Tim D.

    Dear Michael Britt:
    But don’t you feel that it would benefit the undergraduate students who are trying to make a difference in the mental health field to hear the stories of as many H. R. S. H. ex-patients as possible? The purpose of me trying to locate other ex-patients is NOT so much to connect with each other but rather to get as many of them as possible to expose to the world exactly what went on there. If any of us do reconnect, it is strictly co-incidental. And don’t forget, I too am presently an undergraduate student and I am working on MY batchelor’s degree.

  37. Michael

    Tim: I do see some value to psych students in your discussions with others yes. I agree.

  38. Elizabeth A.

    I am an RN major taking an abnormal psych class. I think Tim is right. Tell what you know. Heck, the first Chapter we are covering is the brutal ways of history from the ancient era and on to witch hunts, and on to many other harsh and violating things that went on in institutions, ect. The only way to prevent mistreatment in the future is to not repeat the past. The best way to hear the truth is from someone who endured. If college students can study what I learned over the last week, which are not scary ghost stories, but rather true history, then let the man speak. To the guy who wanted to know more grizzly details and looking for ghost stories, get real dude. We are talking kids and adults who were exploited and hurt by facilities like this one. That’s sick, to want to dwell on someone elses terrible experience, or hear about dead bodies for your own entertainment. How about you live that way for years and we can all hear about your experience for entertainment, get a soul! Tim, keep your head up. I am sorry you endured that place! It sounds like your on a better track, in a better place now, thank God! Thank you for your story an it will help people who study this course. Hopefuly to ensure this never repeats in history, it’s very disturbing that humans can treat another this way, because they are sick, or sad. But keep talking, that’s the best medicine! Prayers for a renewed soul and a better life my friend, your story touched me and this is one nursing student who heard your voice an will treat people better!

  39. Olivia

    I am very curious and very interested… more like… obsessed with anything pertaining to HRSH and I would love to know more about the buildings and the overall experience of living on the grounds. Not that I would want anyone reliving an experience but I would love for there to be more publications geared towards exposing insitutional abuse (not that there aren’t any, but there aren’t nearly enough coming from the patients themselves). I’ve been on the abandoned grounds on several occassions and I just want more information on patient experiences, as well as the grounds.

  40. Tim D.

    To Olivia & All Other Readers of This Blog:
    Sorry, but since I already mentioned in 2 previous blog replies that I’ve covered just about everything and feel at this point that it would be better if other similar people could step forward and give their own stories, I will not be responding any more to the blog. In the event that other such people should step forward, this would be good, but, as Elizabeth A. pointed out earlier, if your desire for such information is based on a perverted obsession with the exploited, don’t bother. This blog was not meant for you.

  41. Angela

    Tim,
    Thank you for everything you have put forth here. I can tell it’s heart wrenching and difficult. I am a student finishing up my last year of a Psychology degree, I have studied abnormal psychology and the histories of some of these centers. I am sorry for the time you spent there. I am stuck on some points of knowing we need state supported facilities in our nation so many have been closed forcing patients who are not mentally stable into life on the streets but it is imperative that what happened at Hudson River never happen again.
    I will continue to work and study towards helping people and helping to ensure that places are in place to help others but that they arent like Hudson River ever again.

  42. Lindsay

    Tim D –

    Did you ever find out where the cemetery was for HRSH? The NYS Office of Mental Health’s web site says they do in fact have their own cemeteries where patients who died while in residence were buried, however I cannot find information to where such cemeteries exist. Also, I know that many of the older graves in NYS were marked only by year or patient number rather than by name.

    Thanks,
    L

  43. Michael

    Wreath: thanks for visiting the site and for your kind words. Feel free to take a look around and see if there’s other info, audio or video that you find useful in your studies.

  44. Shawn Hogan

    Hello, I have been doing geneaology research for a few years now and have found that my 2nd great grandmother lived most of her life here at The Hudson River State Hospital from the late 1890’s to after 1950. Does anyone know how or who to contact for old records of patients? My grandmother (who passed away in 2006) told us of a few times that she went to visit her grandma (1950’s) here at this hospital. It is told that my 2nd GreatGrandma witnessed her husband and child, killed in a carriage accident causing her to be admitted here. This left her only other child (my GreatGrandma) to be raised by her grandpa- As federal ensus’s show.
    So hearing these unfortunate & sad stories from Tim, it saddens me to know people had to endure such horrible expeirences when infact they could of benefitted the most from a helping & loving hand at this point in thier life. If anyone can help me with contact info to find these records, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank You, Shawn Hogan

  45. Tim D.

    Sorry, I wish I could help you, but I don’t know how to obtain this information. But maybe Dr. Roger Christenfeld does.

  46. Tom

    For information concerning deceised family that were patients, contact NYS Office of Mental Health, Consumer Affairs Bureau. 44 Holland Ave. 8th floor Albany NY 12229

  47. CLove

    Having worked in an “institution” type setting for over 10 yrs. I do not agree w/some of the cruel practices patients of the past had to endure. But I believe the mentally ill/mentally disabled have it too easy now. They live in homes I myself will never be able to afford. They want for nothing, they behave like animals and they are well aware of their “rights” and there’s little to no consequence for the animalistic behaviors. Tim, I will never know what it feels like to be you, I never lived in an “institution” but when you ask why residents were not allowed to participate in staff parties/gatherings etc. That is because You and the other “residents” (clients, patients, Im not sure how the staff refered to the individuals residing there) Clients should not be involved in staffs personal lives. It was not cruel of them to not include the clients in their personal affairs it is keeping a professional boundary.

  48. John L.

    Was a resident patient at Hillcrest from 1976-78. Would like to
    communicate with others. (regardless of when you were there)

    Also, would be interested to hear from anyone who actually
    worked at the “nightmare on the hill”.

    Contact at : jdbj@mail.com

  49. John L.

    As previously stated, I was at Hillcrest for a little over (2) years.
    I was (1) of (3) residents remaining on the day they closed the doors for good in 1978. (not 1971 as someone said previously)
    In classic Hillcrest style; they tried to “screw” me right up to the final moments. I would be happy to “detail” this and other
    memories. Please contact me !!
    Would like to hear from anyone, especially those who were there with me. The “Nightmare On The Hill”. Please contact me at : jdbj@mail.com, or text to (504) 249-6619.

  50. Tim D.

    Dear John L. :
    Since March of 1972 was when I got out of what you correctly term “Nightmare On The Hill”, I am surprised that anyone would say that 1971 was the year it closed. However, since I was told that 1973 or 1974 was the year when it did close, I am shocked beyond belief that it stayed open until 1978. I do feel strongly that we should get together at some point along with as many others as possible who went through what we did. But since I am currently unemployed, I wont be able to do this for a while.
    I do intend to contact you, but at the present moment, I am busy.

    Thanks a million anyway
    Tim D.

  51. Kathy H.

    Hey guys,

    I was at Hillcrest from Oct. 64-March 65 and have just published a book about it. Look me up on Facebook, my name is Kathy Lou.
    You can also check me out by searching: KL Hiatt and or Turning 15 In The Loony Bin. I have a video with that title on You Tube as well.

    Why would we want to reminisce anyway? What are we, crazy? Yep, certifiably! Well not really, when I was in the admitting ward and they took me and a slew load of other patients down to be mug shot and fingerprinted, I ran to the done line when the nurse was bringing another patient in the room and I never had it done. Consequently, there is no record of me being there. They were so inefficient at that mad house. What a nightmare it was. Two years? you must be one hell of a strong person to have survived that without losing your mind.

    I’m really looking forward to comparing notes.

    God Bless,

    Kathy

  52. Olivia

    hey Kathy, I bought and read your book and i thought it was very personal and insightful. I really enjoyed it and it gave me a good idea of what it was like being committed to a state hospital.

  53. Joe

    Kathy, I too just finished reading your book and found it to be captivating. Thank you for your courage in sharing your story.

  54. Tim D.

    To Clove and Angela:

    Your responses to my podcast replies reminded me of an incident that occurred several years ago at the Waterworks Pub on Central Avenue in Albany whereby a woman who was recently discharged from Capital District Psychiatric Center entered the bar, urinated on the floor, stood in the same position for an hour without ordering anything from the bar, and would not leave when asked by the management to do so. When the Albany Police Department was later called in, they simply told the management of this gay bar that they could not force her to leave because previous civil rights cases in New York State meant that the Albany Police could be sued if they attempted to remove her, since she carried no weapons. A few years later, another such incident which involved a recently discharged male C. D. P. C. patient who entered an Italian restaurant on Albany’s Western Avenue, walked into the kitchen, started shouting obsenities, and simply went to a side booth and talked with a girl after being told to leave the premisses also threatened to sue the management if he was kicked out or simply touched. Though mental illness is not the fault of those afflicted with it, if a person is not capable or regulating their actions so as not to cause danger or nuissance in social environments, yes, the person MUST be taken into the custody of professionals who have the responsibility to treat and care for them, at least until the right medications can be found and the patient has demonstrated that s/he is able and willing to take it as directed, and on schedule. As for criminally insane people, such as John Hickley, who shot Ronald Reagan back in 1981 in order to make an impression on actress Jodie Foster, and who recently had to be denied release after security personnel at his mental hospital discovered that he was still keeping Jodie Foster parafarnalia and mumbling desires to capture her, we as a society can NEVER in good conscience allow for his discharge and thus people like him must be committed for life. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog reply, the greatest lesson, I feel, to have come out of the 20th century is that no person, church, hospital, school, branch of government, or any institution devised by man can ever again be totally trusted to always operate in the best interest of mankind, and the people who staff mental hospitals must be made aware that they too are being watched, no matter “how high up on a hill” they may be. Thus, all societal institutions must forever be counter-policed by the very people whom society is entrusted to govern and care for, as well as their loved ones. Since history is replete with examples of people who were involuntarily detained for unjustifyably long periods in state mental hospitals and ended up crazier on account of it, laws had to be passed simply as a matter of civil rights to ensure that involuntary commitment can only be done as a last resort, and that patient treatment is humane. So any and all incidents that happen in society involving the mentally ill breaking the law or creating public nuissance must continue to be brought to court in order to better determine what exactly are the rights of such mentally afflicted people, and if necessary, to the Supreme Court.

    As for the recent closure of Ross Pavillion – the last building to comprise H. R. P. C. – though this hospital, on account of it’s bad history had to be forced over time to clean up its act, I find it scandalous that this was done because for the patients whose families actually live in the town of Poughkeepsie, to move them across the Hudson River and down 2 counties to Rockland Psychiatric Center would not only be detrimental to the well-being of the residents, but would be just as much of both an inconvience and financial hardship to their families – particularly if they are poor and depend on public assistance – as it would be to close Albany’s C. D. P. C., and ship them back down to Poughkeepsie. As history has shown us, to bring about optimal patient care, we must not have a few big, regional institutions, but rather alot of little, local ones.

  55. Tim D.

    P. S. : In addition, we must work to make sure that all of the high-quality patient services that can be had in private hospitals can also be had in public ones, and that there is an abundance supported group housing and other crucially needed after-care services for ex-patients.

  56. John L.

    Hello former residents of the “Nightmare On The Hill”. Good to see so many of us still alive and well
    (at least alive) after all this time. I’ve posted on this blog a couple of times within the last year or so,
    since I discovered it. As previously stated, I would like to talk to anyone who was ever a patirent at Hillcrest. I would ESPECIALLY like to speak to anyone who was there from 1976-1978.

    Please call / text anytime at; (504) 758-2399, or send e-mail to; jdbj@mail.com.

  57. Tim D.

    Dear John L :

    I would like to apologize for not being able to contact you sooner so that we could share the awful memories pertaining to what you correctly term “Nightmare On The Hill”. However, I have not been able to do this because after May 2011, when I had to drop out of my senior year in college because my financial aid and rent money ran out, I was not able to get a job on account of this awful recession and I had to go on public assistance. However, since I was there from June 1969 to March 1972, I would still like to know if any of the kids I knew there at that time were still there at the time you were there. For this reason, I would like to give you the names of the inpatients I remember, but I will do so only on YOUR website, because on account of ex-patient confidentiality, I feel they should not be on this one. Once you have received them, please uphold this and respond to my eMail if you remember these people

  58. John l.

    Just checking in with all my fellow (former) mental patients. Was at Hillcrest Academy Adolescent from 1976-78. Willing to speak about it with anyone. Would especially like to speak with anyone who may have been there at the same time. Also, willing to speak with students / researchers. Feel free to call at; (504) 758-2399, or forward e-mail to above address.

  59. Laura

    Hi all,
    I was also in the house of hell with two of my brothers my given name was Lorrie Zehner and it was a nightmare when I was there some of the things they did to us kids was horrible and to put us on medicines also made us into zombies Kathy Lou I think you was there when I was I was about almost 8 years old then my brother was 7 and 11 they had a floor for the younger boys down stairs and the girls up stairs and the older boys also on the other side upstairs I remember a lot about that place John L am so sorry you or anyone had to go through the hell of that place I have went past it last year for the first time sense I had left in the late 60's
    would love to here from all you I'm also on Facebook

    God Bless you all

  60. Tim D

    To Lorrie Zehner:

    Sorry to bother you, but I think I remember you. I was on Ward #28 upstairs and you were across the hall on Ward #27. Mrs. Sipos was your ward's head nurse. You were discharged the same year I was, which was 1972. I remember Jeffrey Deere had a crush on you and was really upset to see you discharged. Just before that Ronnie and Bonnie Deere were moved down to Cheney, and Candy Hamilton was too. Back in 1981 Virginia Bains (now deceased) told me that Bonnie Deere got really fat and had three children. I only saw Felicia Pittman once up in Albany and she didn't seem to be in good shape. As I've said in previous eMails I refuse to refer to Hillcrest as a "school" or "academy" because the educational program was too substandard. You and I were in Miss Johnson's class, right next to the room with those tape machines and headphones. That point system they had was in no way a trade-off for the same type of educational curriculum that the kids in the public schools had on the outside, but since we were given no spending allowance in return for all of that ward work we had to do every morning, we would have been fools not to take advantage of the point system.

    Tim D.

    P. S. : Carlos "Carl" Mendez died two years ago.

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