To learn more about the relationship between the hospital and the Northampton community, I had the pleasure of interviewing former employee Jackie, who worked on the Geriatric Care Team for 7 years at the hospital. Below is the transcript of the interview conducted in April 2015.
Q: What did you do at the state hospital?
J: I worked there from June 1970 to 1976, so I was there for a relatively short period of time compared to most employees. I was in the first graduating class at Springfield Technical College of mental health technicians, a program that no longer exists.It was a 2 year associate science degree somewhere in between a psychology major and a social work major. Interestingly, though, they didn't have many jobs waiting for us - they didn't know what to do with people when they graduated from this program because it was new. So many of my classmates – whom I’m still in touch with regularly now – ended up working in the wards. I was very lucky to be assigned to the Geriatric Care Team, which was located in a small office where 6 people worked: an RN, an LPN, 2 social workers, and 2 mental health technicians. We were located in the G building (G for geriatrics), which is where the Kollmorgan building is now. It was built in the 60's and it was the newest of all the buildings. It was a much more modern and advanced building that met the criteria for Medicare. So most people that were at the state hospital lived there free of charge and there was no remuneration to the state for their care, and the hospital saw an opportunity to bill Medicare and Medicaid for patients who were elderly. So the moment a patient who lived in the main building turned 65 years old – literally on their 65 th birthday - the nurse packed up all their belongings into a box and shipped them over to G building. That way, the state was able to collect Medicaid dollars for them and get money for their care. But with any kind of social program like that that gets dollars, there is paperwork. So the 6 of us were the people who did the paperwork. My very first job – even though I wasn’t a nurse - was to do nursing care plans, which were papers that identified the level of care an individual needs and what the plan is for delivering that care. They made it simple: it was a one page form, and I had to go fill out a bunch of things for every patient every 3 months. And since there were 300 or 400 people in the building, it kept me busy. Eventually, I began working towards all of the steps necessary in preparing a patient to be placed outside the hospital and into the community. And in the case of elderly patients, they went to nursing homes or rest homes, sometimes to apartments, and sometimes back to their families – which was rare, but it happened. In the course of those 7 years, the team placed over 800 patients into nursing and rest homes. Aside from the nursing and care plans, my primary activity was all of those things around getting a patient prepared to go to a nursing home and delivering them there. Then after they were there, we would go to the nursing or rest home every 3 months to see that patient. So we traveled a lot. For 2 or 3 days a week I was on the road with a state car and went to the nursing or rest homes that had patients due for a follow up. Sometimes patients didn’t do very well. About 10% of the time, we had to take them back and readmit them to the hospital because they weren’t adjusting. In the last year or two of working there, we had exhausted the patients in the geriatric section – we had placed all the patients that were able to be placed. Some patients would just never make it in the community.They just wouldn’t be accepted because of their behavior or other things. So when all of the patients in the G building and the letter buildings - C,D,E,and F were older, brick buildings attached to the G building - were exhausted of patients, myself and Mary, who was an LPN, were assigned to work in the main building and start placing patients who were younger than 65 into the community. We reported directly to the superintendent of the state hospital at that time.
Q: So you interacted a lot with the nursing homes and rest homes?
J: We did. We had established quite a good reputation and a very good rapport with at least a dozen nursing and rest homes. We knew the administrators and the directors of nurses and the staff by name. We got so that they trusted us because we were very honest about everything. We would call up and say, “Look we have a patient and here are the good things about them but here are the bad things about them.” We would also choose a specific nursing home for a specific patient. With the array of nursing homes out there, some were very fancy, some places would take anybody and deal with anybody, and some wouldn’t. Some places just wanted incapacitated elderly patients while other places preferred people who were very independent.Staff was more or less tolerant depending on where we were placing a patient so we tried to customize that placement to the patient to succeed. It worked pretty well. It was a very good system.
Q: Were there patients that were prefect matches for the nursing home?
J: I remember many of them. Patients felt one way or another about placement. Some patients were very apprehensive because many of them had been at the hospital for 20, 30, 40 years. They lived there most of their lives. At that period of their lives, the stigma of being mentally ill was so great that generally speaking when you went to a mental institution you stayed there. Not all the time, but a great number of people did. So they made it their home. They made it their life. So to suddenly say, “The state wants to place you out of this institution and in a month we’re going to send you to Pittsfield,” that was quite a scary thing. On the other hand, there were patients who looked forward to it. They would come to our office knocking on the door and saying, “Can I go? I want to go too.” So it was a mixed reaction of things.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of going to a nursing home with a patient?
J: I do, actually. This is a woman who falls into the category of not really feeling comfortable about leaving. But there was absolutely no reason for her to stay. She was almost entirely self-care and her behavior was appropriate. She was a nice, clean lady who was a little talkative. She was a little excitable. Her name was Ester. She sat in the backseat, and Mary and I were on our way to Pittsfield or the Barrington Nursing home. It was about an hour drive away. About 20 minutes into the ride, Ester started getting very anxious and was saying, “It’s too far, it’s too far.” By the time we got there, she was singing, “It’s too far, it’s too far.” So we told her that we had to bring her there because we were going to fill the state hospital with cement and then we were going to cut it up into quarters, carry it off, and it wasn’t going to be there anymore. That was the story we told her. She adjusted very nicely in the nursing home. She did beautifully. She was very happy after she got there and adapted to the new surroundings. Patients frequently did because people were kinder to them –sometimes - and they often made friends that were not mentally ill people. Nursing homes – although they are somewhat an institution – aren’t really the kind of institution that the state hospital was. Patients were free to come and go out the door. They often went on little trips and had other amenities. It was a much more dignified setting in a nursing home than they had come from. So some people really loved it. I can tell you some stories of adaptation. In the state hospital, the shower room was a place where there were several shower stalls. So 5 or 6 patients would sit on a bench, take all their clothes off,and stand there in the stall and wait until everyone got into their stall. Then the nurse or attendant would go to a set of controls on the wall and turn the water on. [The water] went to all the shower stalls at a time. So there were no separate controls, and patients didn’t control the water temperature or flow. When you were done showering, you would step away. The water would still be running because perhaps the next guy was still showering. So you’d dry yourself off on the bench, put clean clothes on, and then leave. In the nursing home setting, we got a call from a nursing home about a man we had just placed and she said,“Everything is fine, but he caused a flood because he went into the shower - someone maybe turned it on for him – he showered and then he left. And the shower ran and ran and ran, and soon enough it ran over and flooded the whole room.” When they asked him why he didn’t turn the water off he said, “Well I didn’t know I had to turn the water off.” He had never experienced that. Carpeting is something that you don’t see at an institution either. The floors are very hard cement or granite floors, and many of the nursing homes that were being constructed had nice carpeting in these big wide hallways. I remember someone calling us and another man saying that he was just having the time of his life. He was taking these running starts down the hallway and then sliding all the way down the hall because he had never really seen carpeting before and he thought it was the coolest thing. There’s a place in Springfield that, at the time, was called Elder Care Rest Home, which was right around the corner from a new Dunkin Donuts. So he really had a wonderful time. He would go out every morning and buy himself coffee and donuts. And that was a tremendous thrill for him. These are just some of the anecdotal things that happen to come to mind. We got regular feedback that either delighted us or occasionally we said, “Uh oh. We picked the wrong place for that guy.” We would say to people,“Please take this patient and, if after a month or so he doesn’t adapt, we will take him back.” And so there were some patients we had to return. We would drive there, pick them up, and drive back to the state hospital, and then place them somewhere else. We usually got it right the second time. I don’t remember anyone who came back and stayed back. Sometimes it just wasn’t the right fit. We weren’t perfect, but we tried.
Q: What did patients at the nursing homes think when you placed hospital patients there?
J: I think the nursing home, as well as us, made careful attempts not to announce to everybody who lived in the nursing home that this new person was from the state hospital. We didn’t go in and say, “Your new roommate is from the state hospital. He’s been there 40 years.” We didn’t do that. I don’t remember any problems with patients that were already at the nursing home or rest home. I’m sure there must have been some, but I don’t remember that being a feature. I do remember, however,the staff. The stigma of mentally ill people was tremendous, and the staff sometimes didn’t want those patients on their ward. I remember at one particular nursing home – it was a brand new nursing home- we went to see the owner and told him, “We can fill this nursing home. We can fill a whole floor. We can fill this wing the day you open.” Of course, to have your beds fill that quickly is a very good business decision. So he agreed. We worked tediously for weeks and prepared 60 patients for transfer to that nursing home. Then the staff when berzerk. They were startled by all these institutionalized patients that the whole team ended up quickly going down there. We ended up doing in-service training with the staff. We described to the staff how harmless these people were. We told them their life stories – generically speaking - and how frequently they were admitted as teenagers or in their 30s and now they are 60 or 70 and they spent all their lives in an institution. The staff quickly came around, and that was all we needed. After that experience, we began offering in-service training to staff at all of the nursing and rest homes. It was very successful.It was trial and error for us since no one had really placed patients into nursing or rest homes before. We pioneered it in MA, so there was some learning curve there.
Q: What are other examples of how your team adapted to the community? In what other ways did you help the patients transition to the nursing home?
J: Sometimes we brought patients from the hospital to see the nursing home. We brought patients who were capable of making decisions, and those that understood the concept of leaving. We sometimes took them out first. We didn’t do a lot of groundwork other than that. We had to work with families more than we had to work with patients because the families had long ago abandoned [the patients]. The superintendent at the time, Dr. Harry Goodman, insisted that if we were going to place any patients outside of the state hospital, we had to get written permission from a family member first. He was very afraid of political backlash of putting patients in the community. So, it was tedious but we might call you up about your brother or your cousin or husband or wife, and say “Hi. We know you haven’t seen him in 40 years or haven’t cared about him in 15 years, but we need your written permission to place him.” We were not even allowed to consider placement until we had that written permission slip in our hands. We would type up a short little permission slip that said, “I give permission for my brother Joe Smith to be placed in the community.” Once we had that, we could go to work. There were times when family obstructed that. It was rare, but it happened and most of the time it was for financial reasons. These were patients who, before they were admitted, were from well to do families – owned real estates or had a lot of assets – and for them to return to the community and not be in the state hospital perhaps might threaten the opportunity for other family members to own that property. So some patients didn’t leave the hospital solely because of those motivations. But we didn’t do much groundwork. We had to get written permission, and sometimes we took a patient there to see a place. I don’t ever recall bringing staff from the nursing homes to view the state hospital. We would write up some type of social summary and send it off to the nursing home describing the patient. We would also make a phone call to the director of nurses or to the administrator of the nursing home and describe what special needs an individual might have. They would look it over and say, “Okay, we’ll take him.” Then we’d wait for a bed and get everything ready. Sometimes, someone would call from the nursing home and say, “I have a bed now.” And two days later we would put the patient in the car and take them up there.
Q: What is the most memorable thing that the community did for you or the patients at the hospital?
J: I don’t remember the community ever doing anything for employees at the hospital. We didn’t ask for anything, but I don’t remember that ever happening. But there is a poignant moment that I will never ever forget. It was in G building and it was around Christmas time. On the first floor of G building, the doors were not locked during the daytime because G1 - the first floor of G building left and right was male and female - was an open ward. So right after breakfast, the doors would be unlocked and they would stay unlocked until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. So patients could come and go whenever they wanted. They usually told the nurses on their floor that they were going somewhere or they were going to be gone so we wouldn’t think that they were missing. And of course they had to report back for medications. But patients could walk around the grounds, they could walk downtown, they could go out and have a cigarette, they could do a number of things. So we never knew if people were coming in to G1. One day I was sitting in a room called the day room, which is the room on every ward where the patients sit during the day and spend most of their time.There’s a TV up on the wall and some magazines and tables and not much more. I was sitting in the day hall with a patient when all of a sudden this group of people comes in and starts singing Christmas carols. But what was poignant was that there were a lot of Polish speaking people at the state hospital. On that ward, there were 2 or 3 polish women who had been sitting in the day hall as well; a lot of them didn’t speak much English, only Polish. Northampton itself was largely a Polish speaking community. So these may have been people from thelocal community. [The carolers] sang a couple of songs, and then one of the elderly women started singing “Silent Night” in Polish. Then, a couple of the others chimed in spontaneously. Of course the carolers didn’t know polish so they stopped singing. And it made me cry. It cracks me up even now to think about that. It was just so beautiful. It was beautiful and poignant because what other time of the year in our culture here do we have the most family memories? We have the most family memories around Christmas because we were all children and we were innocent and happy. And I could just imagine all of these old women and the one polish man singing back there in Poland at Christmas early in their lives when they were happy. But now here they were old people not in Poland, in the day hall of a mental hospital, elderly, and singing in Polish. That was probably the most poignant moment in geriatrics. It was a beautiful moment.
Q: Can you describe some moments that were also quite memorable?
J: I can tell you about Jimmy. Jimmy was this tall lanky Afro-American man who was on the open ward on G1. He spent all day long washing the floors. Many of the patients worked,sometimes voluntarily because it’s better than not working, and sometimes because they were paid small amounts of money, like a quarter a day, or a quarter for a morning’s work, or a pack of cigarettes. And many of the patients smoked cigarettes; about 80% of the patients smoked cigarettes. In fact, the state hospital used to buy cartons and cartons of cigarettes for the patients.There was a farm where they grew food; they had chickens, pigs, and cows. There was mechanical work to do in the garages; there was work to do in the carpenter shop and the paint shop. There were a lot of jobs to do in the kitchens in the cafeterias preparing food. I would say that 25% of the workers in the cafeteria were patients from the wards. So, Jimmy washed floors and he had his own janitorial closet with a key. He never spoke to anybody. In the summertime there was no air conditioning in the buildings and it was very very hot. So he would roll his sleeves and pant legs up really tight. And he called me Ms. Jack. I would walk over and say, “Good morning, Jimmy.” And he would say, “Good morning, Ms.Jack.” And that would be our whole conversation because he was delusional. He was constantly talking to himself and nobody ever asked Jimmy what he was talking about. He washed his floors, he was a quiet guy, he didn’t talk to anybody, and he didn’t have any friends or have any close associations with anybody. So one day I happened to notice it was wintertime and he had his pant legs were rolled up as tight as he could roll them. It wasn’t hot in the building, so I asked him, “Jimmy, why do you have your pant legs rolled up?It’s winter time.” He said, “Oh, I’m just letting out the electricity, Ms.Jack. I’m just letting out the electricity.” That was the funniest phrase I ever heard a patient say to me in total honesty. He was just “Letting out the electricity.” He was an interesting guy, and I liked him a lot.
Q: What are other memories that you have?
J: There was a man from Belchertown State School in MA that is as large a campus as the Northampton State Hospital. And the state school was for retarded individuals. And they had children who were 5 years old up to adulthood. There was a large exposure of the care there, so after that they tried to empty out the state school and reduce the numbers because it was very overcrowded. As a result of that, many of the mentally retarded patients – as they were called at the time - were sent to other institutions around the state. And the NSH probably got 20 or 30 people. There was this adorable man with mental retardation in G1 who used to come into my office and go, “Oh you little rascal you. You little rascal. I’m watching you. You be careful. I’m watching you.” I presumed that this was what they used to say to him as a child growing up at the Belchertown State School. And that was one of his favorite phrases: “Oh you little rascal you.I’m watching you. You be careful now. Oh, you be careful.” He said it in jest. He had a big, big smile when he said that. He was a lot of fun; he was adorable. Our office was located right on G1 and our door was almost always open, so patients would dip in all the time to say hello or talk to us or sit down next to our desks and chat us up. Or they would come in because they wanted a light. “Got a light, honey?” was typical because patients were allowed to have cigarettes but they weren’t allowed to have matches. So they had to ask staff members to get a light. I always had a light and people always said “Got a light, honey? Got a light?” There were sad things that happened to patients too, most of which I would prefer to forget. I wouldn’t say that I personally had bad relationships with patients. I really enjoyed the patients that I worked with and that I knew. Over 6 or 7 years, you form a nice bond, a strong bond, a friendship with patients. And I did, just as a lot of employees did. Perhaps some of the employees on the wards and some of the employees that had worked there in the shops and on the farm and in the kitchens formed the strongest and longest and greatest relationships with patients. Patients often became like family to those people. If you worked with the same employer for 30 years, you’d know everything about that employer and he would know everything about you. Patients were institutionalized but so were some employees. Employees worked at the state hospital all their lives. It was considered to be a “good state job.” So if your mom and dad worked there – which was often the case - and you were turning 18 and graduating from high school, they’d get you a job there too and you would work there all your life. In fact, that’s exactly why I left. I could have stayed and I was up for a new higher paying position they had just created, and I said, “I’m going to leave now.” I didn’t want to get a better job there and make more money because I knew I might not match that on the outside and I would be stuck there for my life. I didn’t want that to happen. I looked around at some employees that had been working there for 20 or 30 years and they seemed very tired, and routine after a while robs you of the creative ability or potential you might have. I didn’t want to look like that or be that way. I didn’t want to spend 20 or 30 years working the same job. So, that’s exactly why I left. But, I was going to say that patients were institutionalized but so were employees because it became their life, their family. They brought others of their family in there. So maybe your mother worked there or your father worked there or your sister worked there part-time and you worked there. Then your aunt worked there, your uncle worked on the farm. Nepotism was very strong. If you were in good with Dr. Goodman or Ms. Eaton or someone in charge of hiring, you would go in and say, “My cousin needs a job and he would be a really good farmer. Would you try him out?” And he would get the job. That’s how things worked. I think almost everybody was hired because they knew someone on the inside. I don’t ever remember job advertisements for the state hospital in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. You would just put the word out and somebody’s brother would come. So patients and other employees who worked there for many, many years formed these very strong bonds.I can think of several examples. There was one fellow who lived at the bottom of the state hospital hill in a private house, and he worked at the state hospital. He had a patient come to his house just about every day of the year and do work around his house. He would pay him $2 a day. He would pour cement,and do his gardening, and do his carpentry. So patients did a lot for the employees and a lot of times employees did a lot for patients. They would take them out, they would take them home, and they would give them special gifts - all the things you can imagine.
Q: What was the relationship between patients and the surrounding Northampton community?
J: Back in the 70's, Northampton wasn’t the place to be. It wasn’t a particularly desirable place to live. In the early 80's, it’s become a hip and desirable place to live and everyone wants to live in Northampton. But back in the day when I was working and living here, it was a nice community of mostly working families – Irish and Polish were the two primary groups. There was one street light near the Edwards church, across from the Academy of Music. It wasn’t the busy intersection that it is now. And that street light, at 9 o’clock at night, would go from regular street light operation to flashing yellow because there was no traffic. At 11 o’clock at night on a Saturday, the place was empty except for one police officer who would go and check the doorknobs of all the businesses. It was not a very interesting town. Women from Smith hardly ever left campus at the time because there was nothing really to do downtown; there were no clubs or interesting places. This wasn’t known as a place for restaurants back then. So the community was extremely tolerant of odd people. There were three groups, and I want you to understand this is respectful when I say this: there was the VA hospital, so there were a lot of veterans wandering around the community, there were the state hospital people, so a lot of mental patients that were downtown all the time, and then there were Smith college girls who were always wandering around looking like they were trying to get acclimated. So the Northampton community was used to outsiders, and tolerated anything and everything. It wasn’t unusual to see Mrs. Bee, who was an elderly patient that would walk down from the hill every day and hang around downtown. She was very hallucinatory, and she would stand there on the sidewalk talking to herself very angrily, very quickly, all day long about one thing or another. And she would scold this one, and she would scold that one. The community knew who she was. There was guy in the 80's called Suntan man. He was this veteran from the VA hospital and he was this pretty large guy. He used to take his shirt off and he used to stand at the corner of the intersection of route 5 and 10, outside what is now the big jewelry store. He would stand there under the clock with one of those reflective things that help you tan, and people would pass him by. He never made trouble, just like Mrs. Bee never made trouble. But he was odd. You couldn’t do that in Springfield or Chicopee or Ludlow or Belchertown or Amherst. Maybe Amherst. But out here it didn’t look odd. The community accepted them. So the community was very tolerant of mentally ill people and of veterans who had their problems and out-of-owners from Smith.
Q: So the Northampton community was created of and by “outsiders?”
J: It was. It’s always been my theory that different social groups have been so accepted here in Northampton right from the get go because it was already a community that understood things – groups, thinking, behavior, and lifestyle - that weren’t conventional. So this is the place to be if you want to be unusual. And that’s what makes the city so interesting to me, even now.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
J: Well, I’ll tell you something that isn’t positive. There was this elderly man. In fact, he was the Polish man who was singing “Silent Night.” He was a very gentle, kind, neat man who spoke English as well. He wore a suit every day. He was not at the state hospital voluntarily, although he had been there for maybe 20 years or more when I was working. He was committed, as opposed to being a voluntary patient. Most patients signed themselves into the state hospital, but that’s because someone stood over them with a pen and said, “Sign here.” They didn’t explain their rights, and they signed there. [The patients] also didn’t know that if they wanted to leave all they had to do was write a statement that said, “This is my 3-day notice to leave.” Nobody ever told patients they had a right to a 3-day notice because that would have cause chaos and patients would have left.That was all very legal but nobody knew it. Then, there were patients at the state hospital who were legally committed by a court of law due to something heinous they had done. There were levels of heinous. There were people there who had committed terrible crimes and there were people who had beaten their spouse. Big difference between killing a child and beating their wife; there were people of all sorts of designations. So this elderly patient had somehow terrified his wife, and she was this little old polish women and she was still alive. Every year if you were committed to the hospital you had a right to a commitment hearing. One day, I was sitting in my office and everybody was at lunch. I was the only person in the office, and the office door had been closed. Dr. Buyer, the assistant superintendent, opened it, looked in, and said to somebody behind him, “This is good. Yeah, we’ll use this.” Then he opened the door and in marched 4 or 5 people and this elderly Polish patient. The patient was told to sit there and he sat there. I said to Dr. Buyer, “Do you want me to leave?” And he said, “No, no. You can stay, you can stay.” And I found myself in the middle of this impromptu commitment hearing. So present were me, the patient, Dr. Buyer, another doctor, a lawyer, the wife, and the patient’s adult son. And the lawyer proceeded to outline his case why the family objected to this patient ever being uncommitted because he had terrified the wife and he did this and he did that. Well, whatever things he did, he did them 20 years ago. He was one of the gentlest people I had ever known. They voted to recommit him, and it was all very quick. I remember leaning over and saying to Dr. Buyer, “Can I say something?” And he said, “No, you just be quiet.” I wanted to speak up for the patient and say that he was a perfectly lovely patient, but they wouldn’t let me speak. Everybody was then getting up to leave and I said to the patient who was sitting to my left, “Do you know who that man is over there?” And he said, “No, no, who is it?” And I said, “That’s your son.” He hadn’t seen his son since [the son] was 5 years old. And I put the son on the spot because the son was trying to get up and get out of there before he had to actually talk with his father. By this time, the patient rose and said,“Peter? Peter?” The fellow came over and said, “Hi, Pop.” The patient’s eyes lit up and he was just so delighted. He shook his hand and he hugged him, then they talked for a while. By this time, everybody else had left and it was just me and the patient and his son. I just sat there and I could see the son looked very uncomfortable. He answered a few questions for his father and told him a few things about himself. Then he said, “I gotta go, I gotta go, Pop. I gotta go to bring mom home.” And then he left and I don’t know if he ever saw him again. And I always thought that that was the biggest injustice. But it was not unusual, that kind of method of having a commitment hearing was typical. Now, that could never happen. Some years later, Western Mass legal services was born and they started locating themselves at the state hospital to try to protect patients’rights and represent them under different circumstances to make sure they get the correct advice, the correct information, and that they read their rights. That slowly made changes in the system over the years. Patients didn’t have any rights. Did you see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson? He was the feature patient in the movie.He’s been in this institution for a while. He’s kind of with it, and he’s been stirring up trouble with Nurse Ratched. And at one point, he becomes aware that all of the other men in the ward are voluntary patients. He’s the one committed, but they are voluntarily. And he goes into this tirade and he says,“You mean to tell me all of you are voluntary? You could just sign yourselves out? What are you doing here? Just sign yourselves out.” That was perfect. That was really prefect because it was really how it was. Patients could sign themselves out but they didn’t or they didn’t know how to, or they didn’t know what they would do if they did, so the stayed all their life.
Q: Do you think that movie is really accurate?
J: Yes. A little exaggerated. And of course, Jack Nicholson could never get away with taking a bunch of patients out on a lark and a school bus and pretending they were all doctors. That was all kind of fun. But much of it was very accurate. I also saw the theater version of the movie. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Oh my god this is just like being at the state hospital. This is really amazing. They have these characters and the institutional setting down beautifully.” Except,no patient would get away with stealing a bus. If you weren’t home by 4 in the afternoon, the state hospital police force would start going all over town and looking for you. We never really lost a patient that I know of, not while I was there.
Q: Rebecca came to talk to the class, and she was explaining that the telephone company would host bingo and there were Santas at Christmas. Did they do that in the G building?
J: I believe they did, but since I worked in the office I didn’t take part in a lot of that. Yes,there were activities. There was occupational therapy - not much in G building.I think there was a little occupational therapy down in the basement where two or three of the favorite patients would get to go to OT and make the trays or knit potholders. Rebecca probably remembers some of the highlights. What I do remember that no one has ever touched on, though, is that there was a Christmas Special that the patients used to put on. There was also a book called Hilltop Newsletter that a group of patients and one woman named Margie wrote. She was a very self-care, very independent, literate woman who wrote the Hilltop Newsletter . It had stories that the patients had written in poetry, and a lot of stories she had written. And she published this somehow; it must have been printed at our print shop. I’ll have to ask Mary if she knows. Mary was one of the nurses that worked on the Geriatric Care Team placing patients and she was great at it. She was the one that established the relationship with the nursing home, that got on the phone and did cold calls to nursing homes, that walked in the door to nursing homes and said, “Can I meet with your administrator. I’m from the state hospital and I would like to talk with you.” She was the one who opened the doors. She also spoke Polish, so she could talk to Polish relatives on the phone. She single-handedly probably placed 4 out of 800 of those patients herself. She and I are close friends, even now. She’s about 88 or 89 now, and she’s still intact. She has wonderful, amazing stories about everything. Frontline did a video on her in the 80's, and it was following the death of a child in Florida who had been murdered by a patient that had been at the state hospital only for a weekend. He was admitted, but he knew about and signed a 3-day notice, so the state hospital let him out. Not long after that, he murdered a child in Florida. So that was bad publicity for the whole hospital, the whole deinstitutionalization concept, the whole business of having rights. It attacked a lot of fronts. It also attacked the judgment of the people at the state hospital who determined that he could be a voluntary patient and who did not move to commit him even though he was assaultive and combative during the weekend. I wasn’t there at the time and didn’t know the man; I just heard about him. So they did a Frontline story about Mary and they featured a husband and wife with a mentally ill son who they had been trying to get treatment for but were unsuccessful. They followed them through the whole story. The show opens with Mary and she’s in the car driving and talking about how she was a young girl and she came to the Northampton State Hospital. Then she stops the car and gets out, and they’re standing in front of the main building. She has a lot ofstories. We would sit around in her living room for hours talking about old stories. “Remember Ester and Pittsfield?” “It’s too far, it’s too far!”
Conducted by Lynnie Fein-Schaffer , Winnie Chang, and Zoe Weisner ('17)
Mary Quinn, direct care attendant and director of staff development. Interviewed November 15, 2013.
Michele Reiter, clinical and social work advisor, nonmedical unit director, and director of staff development. Interviewed November 16, 2013.
Alan Raczka, social worker, junior mental health coordinator, and psychologist. Interviewed November 21, 2013.
By Tiffany Clarke ('16)