Saint Elizabeths Hospital held a special dedication last week in honor of Arthur W. Hellman, a patient at the hospital for 49 years before he died of cancer in 1977.
It was the first time in the hospital's 123-year history that a building was dedicated to a patient, according to hospital officials.
The ceremony took place at the "point," which is near the site of a small garden tended for many years by Hellman and provides a panoramic view of Washington and the Anacostia River. Hellman was portrayed at the ceremony as an old man who had become a victim of institutionalization. After so many years of hospitalization, officials said, Hellman preferred to stay within the confines of the hospital rather than live in the community.
Hellman was known as "Chief" by patients and staff. They said he often gave flowers and garden vegetables that he raised to his friends.
"It was only fitting and proper that a greenhouse be named in his honor," said Dr. Charles Meredith, hospital superintendent, who was on hand when a metal plaque was unveiled on the wall of one of the hospital greenhouses.
Dr. Roger Peele, assistant superintendent, reminded the audience of how psychiatric care was handled during the early years of Chief's stay. "It was handled, too often, miserably," according to Peele, who said crowded, stinking patient facilities were once a way of life at Saint Elizabeths.
According to Peele, the hospital's recent troubles with accreditation and a cutback in federal funding for the facility are part of a problem the hospital has endured in its effort to provide adequate patient care.
He said that although Chief complained about the "living conditions and injustices," he wanted to live his life out at the hospital.
According to Hellman's niece, Harriet Miller, Hellman was committed to Saint Elizabeths in 1928 after serving a number of years in the Navy. She said he got his nickname from his rank in the military.
A patient said she had known "Chief" shortly before his death and that he had offered her support and confidence.
During the convocation, the Rev. John Coleman said the dedication of the greenhouse "would let those whose lives are now in darkness see the light when they use the garden that Chief once; worked in."