Category Archives: Quality of Care

Memories of Morningside Hospital from a Staff Psychiatrist

 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Commitment in the early days followed now-outdated state laws.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. Read More »

Also posted in 1950-1960s, Oral Histories | 2 Comments

1911 Investigation

[image title=”Walter Clark” size=”full” id=”927″ align=”right” alt=”Governor Walter E. Clark” ]Joseph Von Kowski was adjudged insane in Tanana on March 13, 1911 and admitted to Morningside Hospital on April 15, 1911. He only stayed at the hospital for a short time, escaping on July 15. He subsequently wrote a letter to the matron of the Fairbanks Jail alleging that Morningside was “worst than any slaughterhouse from the beginning of the World” and that patients were “kept as slaves.” He also maintained that patients were tied up and beaten.

Walter Clark (right), Alaska’s first territorial governor, went to Morningside and spent 4 days “investigating  conditions at the asylum”, where he conferred with Edward Dixon, the Department of the Interior inspector who also conducted the 1909 inspection.

The following documents detail the complaint and investigation.

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1909 Dixon Investigation Report

Henry Waldo Coe and his partners (the Sanitarium Company) began providing mental health care to Alaskans in 1904. Prior to winning their first contract, they operated Crystal Springs Sanitarium which provided care to private-pay patients.

The pictures below show how the hospital changed as it morphed into Morningside Hospital, going from private-pay patients to government contract supported care of Alaskans. These images are from an October, 1909 investigation report on the care of Alaskan patients at Crystal Springs Sanitarium. The report, written by Edward W. Dixon, is from US Department of the Interior records at the National Archives II in College Station, MD. You can read the full report and see additional photos here – [Download not found].

The changes in the architecture are striking.

[image title=”Massachusetts building” size=”full” id=”853″ align=”left” ]



The Massachusetts Building (Crystal Springs Sanitarium) with the Nurses Cottage (to the left).




[image title=”Morningside Asylum” size=”full” id=”872″ align=”right” ]



Morningside Asylum building, where Alaskan patients were housed.



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Posting Morningside Administrative Records

We’ve amassed a large collection of material from our research at the National Archives II in Maryland. The documents are primarily administrative correspondence between Morningside Hospital and administrators at the U S Department of the Interior Office of Territorial Affairs. These documents include information on patients (admissions, discharges, diagnoses, deaths, citizenship, assets, etc.), complaints and investigations, inspections, and personnel issues.

[image title=”1909 Dixon Insp Rpt” size=”full” id=”883″ align=”right” ]I’m going to begin posting the US DOI reports on the blog on a regular basis. They are fascinating reading and provide insight into mental health care in the first half of the 20th century. You can find the first report (all 67 pages) in the next blog post, on the 1909 Dixon Investigation.

If you download a document, please take a few minutes to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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1923 DOI Inspection

[image title=”Photos 1923_0003″ size=”full” id=”592″ align=”right” linkto=”viewer” ]Research team member Marylou Elton lives in Washington, DC, and spends many of her Wednesday’s at the National Archives II scanning Department of the Interior (DOI) administrative records of Morningside Hospital. She recently sent an interesting set of documents relating to the 1923 DOI inspection of the hospital, including the DOI inspectors report and recommendations, Morningside owner Henry Waldo Coe’s response, a list of exhibits and photos.

A few of the more interesting things in the report:

  • On July 25, 1923, there were 246 patients at Morningside, including 35 Alaska Natives.
  • 25% of the patients had syphilis. One of the symptoms of late stage syphilis is mental illness. Read More »
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1915 Investigation

Many of the recently discovered burial sites and death certificates were from the early years at Morningside Hospital. In May, I wrote an article  about the Department of the Interior’s 1915 investigation into the care provided at the hospital. In March of 1915, the judicial committee of the Alaska Territorial Legislature issued a report criticizing the facility and demanding that care be improved. Dr. Viola May Coe of Morningside Hospital denied the accusations and asserted that patients were well cared for. Read More »

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Patient Photos: 1935 Investigation

Over the years, the Department of the Interior conducted a number of investigations of Morningside Hospital. The photographs taken as part of these investigations are one of the few sources of images of patients that we’ve found.  Here are a few from the 1935 investigation.

One of the Men's Wards

One of the Men's Wards

Women Patients Doing Needlepoint

Women Patients Doing Needlepoint

One of the Women's Wards

One of the Women's Wards

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Questions about Quality of Care – 1915

Over the years, there were numerous occasions when concerns were raised about the quality of care provided by Morningside Hospital. The earliest we’ve found was in 1915. The Sunday, March 28, 1915 issue of the Atlanta Constitution included the following story:

Syndicate Enriched from Insane Asylum
Juneau, Alaska. March 27 – A report criticising the Morningside sanitarium at Portland Ore., where Alaska insane are cared for under contract with the government, was returned yesterday by the judicial committee of the territorial legislature. The report demanded “that conditions there, by which the syndicate is enriched $30,000 annually, be improved.” Read More »

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