Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
St. Elizabeths Hospital, the District's sprawling institution for the mentally ill, is a perpetual target of criticism. People were saying even worse things 40 years ago -- only then, before the era of deinstitutionalization, there were a lot more people hospitalized at St. Elizabeths. An excerpt from The Post of Nov. 27, 1960:
By Luther P. Jackson
An inscribed stone is embedded in the threshold of a building at St. Elizabeths Hospital -- home to some 7000 of the mentally sick.
It reads: Built, 1853-54; repaired, 1872.
One of the building's crowded men's wards is a kind of all-purpose room used for sleeping, eating and watching TV. Some of the patients pace it among a profusion of tables, beds and benches. Others are frozen into a tableau: their eyes closed in almost endless sleep or focused on the 17-inch screen.
The only bath is a shower with leaky joints bound by rags which fail to keep the water from squirting into the center of the room where it forms a puddle.
The walls are heavy with layers of paint, which peel and buckle like paper. The human odors have so permeated the century-old woodwork that they defy the strongest of modern detergents.
In this one ward are 54 men with but one attendant to care for them. Some of the patients appear to be hopelessly disturbed. ...
Among the hospital's recent visitors were Commissioner Mark Sullivan Jr. and members of the District Health Advisory Council. Both the Commissioner and his advisers agree that St. Elizabeths should be a model for the Nation's mental hospitals. But the question of how the District and the Federal Governments would pay for improvements is one which Congress may have to decide.
The hospital draws only $4.5 million of its current budget of $21 million from Congress. To meet operating expenses, it must depend on such users as the District, the Virgin Islands and the Veterans Administration. The District's share amounts to $15 million, which is by far the largest non-capital item in the city's budgets.
The District provides five of every seven of the hospital's patients. ...
Superintendent Winfred Overholser feels that this budget system not only shortchanges the hospital, but prevents sound planning for staff and facilities. He feels Congress should appropriate the total operating expenses to the hospital, plus providing the District with its payment.