Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012, 6:00 AM
I read with interest The Oregonian’s Aug. 5 article about Morningside Hospital. The article focused primarily on the deaths and inadequate care of the “inmates.”
The researchers said they’d never heard of the hospital before, so they obviously had no firsthand knowledge of its standards and practices.
I worked as a psychiatrist at Morningside from 1962 to 1966. I was not aware at any time while there of patient abuse or foul play. I compare the care given to patients there as better than most state hospitals of the time and even now, and I have known several first-hand. Patients were treated with respect and kept as active as possible. Those capable were expected to work, a practice widely used in institutions of the time, and a good idea at that.
Commitment in the early days followed now-outdated state laws. However, I did not see many who did not have a good reason to be there. Return of “inmates” to Alaska was held up primarily because authorities did not want them returned. It was common practice in those days to “institutionalize” patients, to keep them away from general society. Thus, the hospitals were really asylums for the mentally handicapped.
Because there was little effective treatment for most mentally ill in those early days, many practices now deemed archaic and brutal were the only ones available to deal with violent and intractable “inmates.” With the advent of effective chemotherapy in the 1960s, more people were released. However, society was still not that accepting of the return of larger numbers, and few provisions were made for community care, resulting in many wandering the streets aimlessly, going to jail or prison, living and dying in urban jungles.
Beside psychiatrists, like me, there were psychologists, registered nurses, recreational and vocational therapists and schoolteachers employed at the hospital when I practiced there.
One social worker, also a nurse practiced at Morningside for more than 40 years, and made periodic visits to known or identified relatives in Alaska over all those years. Other staff periodically visited families in Alaska for “inmates.” These persons were not neglected during my service there
I am writing this to add breadth to the view of Morningside, as not simply a depository for unwanted Alaskans, but a humane institution of its time, providing asylum and care for the mentally ill of Alaska, and a significant part of Portland history.
S. Roy Moss, M.D.
Santa Maria, Calif.