St. E's Patients Share the Dream; 132-year-old Hospital Transferred to District

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 1987; 12:00 AM

With much fanfare, St. Elizabeths Hospital officially became part of the District of Columbia yesterday in a historic transfer ceremony that included an appeal from patients to perfect founder Dorothea Dix's dream of humane, quality mental health care.

The 132-year-old hospital in Southeast Washington, until yesterday the property and responsibility of the federal government, will be operated by the District's new Commission on Mental Health Services -- a change in status that D.C. Mayor Marion Barry hailed as a boon for patient care and a boost to the city's home rule efforts.

"This is a special day for Washington, D.C.," said Barry, addressing a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred who attended a balloon-festooned transfer celebration on the hospital grounds. "For the first time, the District government now provides complete mental health services to all District residents."

Barry and other city and federal officials joined hospital staff and patients in a two-hour, upbeat ceremony that celebrated the change in hospital authority and warned of challenges ahead as the District moves to shift the focus of mental health care to community centers and group homes.

The mayor called the transfer "one of the happiest moments of my life" but said that for the new commission to succeed, "We're going to need the entire community to assist us."

In a pointed reference to District government plans to set up mental health care facilities in all eight city wards, Barry said D.C. citizens "must not reject" the mentally ill.

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© 1987 The Washington Post Company