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Project to collect histories from Central State Hospital

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The Indiana Medical History Museum is collecting histories from former patients of Central State Hospital, along with employees, family whose loved ones were patients and those who lived close to the facility.

Central State Hospital opened in 1848 and was originally called the Indiana Hospital for the Insane.

Patients were treated for a variety of diagnoses, including schizophrenia, depression, hysteria, alcoholism and epilepsy. The number of patients dwindled in the hospital’s final years with new medications and a shift in thinking about mental illness. It closed in 1994 following funding issues and scandals involving patient abuse.

The museum is located on the hospital’s former grounds at 3270 Kirkbride Way on the near west side.

Learn more about the project and submit your history at imhm.org or by email at voices@imhm.org. You can also call the museum at 317-635-7329.

Central State Hospital through the years

According to an article in the Evansville Journal from Feb. 5, 1846, a state commission purchased farmland from N. Bolton to purchase the hospital, which would cost “thirty or forty thousand dollars.”

By 1854, the Daily State Sentinel, writing about updates from the hospital’s board of commissioners, said under the board’s new leadership, the hospital “will continue to maintain its present exalted position as the best institution of the kind in the Union.”

But problems and stories of abuse mounted over the years. In 1984, the Department of Justice charged Central State with violating patients’ civil rights.

In 1992, a grand jury began to review evidence of patient deaths at the hospital. According to the Recorder, more than 15 patients died there between July 1989 and April 1992.

Gov. Evan Bayh, who announced in 1992 the hospital would close, was asked during the leadup to the next election that year about Central State.

“My central desire is to do what is best for the patients,” he told the Recorder. “… We’re not going to turn any patients out onto the Indianapolis streets.”

When it closed, there were 650 workers at Central State, according to the Recorder.

As part of the closure process, the Indiana Division of Mental Health (now the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction) contracted Indiana University researchers to study the closing process and follow the progress of discharged patients. The research spanned more than a decade.

According to an update in 1999, fewer than 27% of patients discharged into the community were rehospitalized, and fewer than 4% were either in jail or homeless after 24 months.

In 2004, Imam Michael Saahir, who is still a Recorder contributor, wrote about the role of religious leaders in caring for people with mental illnesses.

“With the closing of Central State Hospital mental institution many people who were deemed not to be a threat to themselves or others were released to family members, or to roam the streets of Indianapolis,” he wrote. “Some of them have taken residence in jail and prison; yes, housed away ‘out of sight and out of mind.’”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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