A Patient’s Perspective on Morningside in the 1960’s

Steve B. was a patient at Morningside Hospital in the mid-1960s. He is the first former patient to contact us and provides a look at life at Morningside from the patient’s perspective. If you have a question for Steve, please leave a comment and we’ll pass them along to him.

By Steve B.

During my stay, both drugs and EST were used. I was not treated with EST, only drugs, among which I am sure there were anti-depressants and tranquilizers. There were perhaps six or seven teens in my ward and one or two of them were administered EST. Memory tells me that most EST-treated patients were in the older population. On my ward, meds were kept in a locked chest located on the wall near the aides’ station. These were carefully measured and administered by the aides themselves. Mine were in powder format, mixed with orange juice for tolerable palatability.

Dr. Roy Moss, in “talk therapy” individual sessions, addressed my problems, but I was never given a diagnosis or nomenclature for those problems. Perhaps my parents were given a technical-medical name for what was ailing me, but they never mentioned it and I never inquired.

Hindsight tells me there were probably well over a hundred patients during the period of my stay, but these were scattered among different wards/dorms, and I never witnessed a mass-gathering of patients, so this is only my best guess.

There were many native Alaskans at Morningside during my stay. Again, since I have no real grasp on the total population, I can’t accurately say how many their numbers were. But I would run across them “all the time”, especially in larger gatherings such as daily cafeteria meals, so I would guess that they were still constituting a substantial portion of the general population. Most of these were older males (didn’t notice many, if any, females), and other than the normal courtesies, unfortunately, I didn’t converse with them – so I can’t relate anything regarding the frequency and/or process of returning them to Alaska. One exception was the only teen Alaskan I knew, who was an affable sort except when his anger management issues would trigger outbursts. However, I didn’t learn anything from him pertaining to native American life in Alaska. On my ward there was also a Native American named Reggie Hunt, but if I’m not mistaken, he was from Central (Warm Springs Reservation?) or Eastern Oregon, not Alaska. My first experience of Alaskan culture came in the hospital’s main office, where my parents brought me to be admitted. The walls were hung with all kinds of native crafts, a lot of masks and suchlike.

The aides were exceptional – reasonable, responsible, and approachable, some with wild senses of humor, which of course, immensely helped patients during their (in many cases) involuntary “incarceration”. The aides never abused anyone and were extremely helpful in all ways. Discipline was maintained, but I believe always in tandem with communication with the doctors – i.e., no unilateral, “fascistic” decisions were made by the aides. One punitive measure I recall was being “put on restriction”, which meant isolation from the rest of the community in the ward. Such patients would be permitted to attend the school, but were not allowed to return to the ward except at night for head-count and sleep. I recall one incident in which I was the only “innocent party” – and all the rest of the teens were put on restriction. It was a strange but exciting feeling for me to have my freedom, limited though it was, while all my peers were on off-ward restriction.

Again, I observed no abuse from “the powers that be”. However, kids being kids/people being people, there were strong rumors circulating on our ward of some teen sexual activity, but only between patients, never between staff and patients.

The quality of life at Morningside was as good as could be imagined, “considering the circumstances”. Movies were arranged, trips to local swimming pools, bowling alleys, etc. There was a rec room which included a piano; there was a “snack and fun” center with vending machines, a little shop, a small lounge, and other amenities. The school was well maintained and the teachers were quite sharp. I’m sure there was homework, but I don’t recall doing any on the ward.

Apparently Morningside would on occasion coordinate with outside physicians and/or medical training programs. One day I was asked to be interviewed by a visiting psychiatrist, to which I readily agreed. He asked the usual questions. I presume whatever data he obtained went into some institution’s records, but I can’t recall what clinic or hospital this particular doctor represented.

In addition to individual psychotherapy, there was group therapy for us (we?) teens. In his interview, Dr. Moss mentioned that this was fun but the whole teen group workshop/program eventually withered because aide staffing was insufficient to manage “difficult” teens. In addition to Dr. Moss, sometimes at group therapy, there was a woman therapist, a “Dr. Kelley” who would sit at the table with us and, like Dr. Moss, ask questions/lead discussions/prompt thinking.

I recognized a couple of other doctors around the place – by face, but I don’t think I knew their names. I think I do recall occasionally seeing Dr. Hutchens when he would be walking on the grounds.

The cafeteria was pretty amazing in terms of variety and abundance of food. Also in its attention to the exacting filling of special diet orders from the doctors. My tendency to weight-gain finally resulted in Dr. Moss directing diet orders to the kitchen. The outcome of this was taking all my meals in a special annex to the cafeteria, which was called “the Diet Kitchen”. This was efficient but unpleasant, first because the food was “dietary” and because it separated me from my peers who would of course be eating in the regular cafeteria.

Also there was a craft shop with saws, lathes, etc. Doctors would frequently assign patients a carpentry project, and that’s how I’m familiar with the shop. I remember a milk vending machine there that dispensed the most refreshing, ice-cold milk in small cartons.

The hospital also had a newsletter that probably came out once a month or maybe every two weeks. It kept us up on new and leaving patients, current patients (hobbies, aspirations), etc., had a cartoon, jokes, etc. I don’t recall the name of the newsletter.

The ward and its separate shower room and lavatory were kept spotlessly clean. I believe that the aides were hands-on responsible for these tasks.

Well, that’s about all I can remember – I hope it’s of interest and of use to you. Please feel free to ask any more questions.

This entry was posted in 1950-1960s, Morningside Hospital, Oral Histories, Patient Stories, Treatment/Outcomes. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Patricia Hill
    Posted March 13, 2020 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    My brother, Michael Stephen Hill, was placed in Morningside Hospital, we believe in 1957. Michael, was not of native Alaskan descent, we were in Alaska because my father had been in the military – we are caucasian. Michael contracted bacterial meningitis, at the age of 5 (he was born in 1952) and prior to us moving back to the lower 48, he was transported to Morningside for care due to, what I understand was mental retardation as a result of the bacterial meningitis. Myself, and other members of my family (there are 8 others) have intermittently searched for Michael. I was told about Morningside, and began research in the 80’s, but was unsure of when the hospital closed. I was told that records were being kept at a “doctor’s” residence, after the hospital closed down, but I was never able to confirm that. I have not been able to find Michael on the patient lists, but I know he was at Morningside. Our father received a letter from the hospital, but he, like many others, never spoke about Michael. Our mother passed away in 1963 – so our information is minimal. Any help anyone can provide is appreciated. Again, his name was Michael Stephen Hill, born September 1952. I believe admitted to Morningside in 1957.

  2. Barbara Atoruk
    Posted October 26, 2020 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    There was a Ruth Carter from Noorvik, Alaska taken by the State, she was young but not mentally stable, probably late 40’s or 50’s, Last her brotherJoe heard that she was at Morningside facility. Never heard again. Any info would be appreciated. Thank you.

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