This was originally published on Liberal America on June 27, 2016.
Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was founded in the 1850s. It opened in 1861 and was called the Alabama State Hospital for the insane. It is being restored to its original layout. The University of Alabama bought the property in 2010.
It’s part of a $120 million project to turn the hospital into a performing arts center and a mental health museum. The University planner, Dan Wolfe, says that the main building will be used as a welcome center, a museum of mental health, and a museum of the university’s history. There will also be event spaces and classrooms for the performing arts students.
This is the layout of the hospital that was designed by a psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, to allow more light into the patients’ rooms. The center building was the administrative building. Each of the wings were three stories.
Now, we don’t have too many of these types of places left to treat those that need long-term care. We have come a long way in treating mental illnesses. The medicines we have now are miracle drugs for those of us that are suffering.
Recently, the hospital has been re-opened in a new facility. I have a quote from someone who worked in the original building in the ’90s when it was still running:
“Bryce was such a beautiful campus, even in the 90’s. It looks creepy in old photos and there were certainly some bad stories. But there were also good, caring people who worked there trying to reach through so much suffering. For many patients, it was a safe home. But nobody wanted to pay for their care so it was decided for them that they were not really happy and safe. “Least restrictive environment” became the mantra. Some had nowhere to go, no family. They went to group homes that are poorly funded and managed or they went to the streets. It is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. The goal was to treat patients with dignity, respect and kindness-like they deserve. But nobody wanted to pay. Now there is nowhere…….”
We have some good facilities for them, but there are bad ones as well. In Florida, there are rampant violent attacks among the patients in their six largest mental hospitals. The employees were pressured not to call 911 because of money issues.
Surprisingly, that is not the worst mental health care out there. In Indonesia, mentally ill people are shackled in their houses for years at a time.