HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ashes of Oregon's Mentally Ill

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article on the forgotten remains of Oregon's mentally ill who had been committed to the Oregon State Hospital.  The article is stark reminder on how our society treated, and to a certain extent, continues to treat the mentally ill.  The article relates the conditions for the dead as well as the living.  It states,

Inside the room, in a dim and dusty corner of one of many abandoned buildings on the decaying campus of the Oregon State Hospital here, are 3,489 copper urns, the shiny metal dull and smeared with corrosion, the canisters turning green.

The urns hold the ashes of mental patients who died here from the late 1880's to the mid-1970's. The remains were unclaimed by families who had long abandoned their sick relatives, when they were alive and after they were dead.

. . . .

The hospital now houses about 730 patients in wards that patients and hospital officials say are overcrowded, drafty and decrepit. A majority of the patients were ordered there by the courts, in cases ranging from misdemeanors to murders.

Many of the patients are ready to leave, hospital officials say. But there are few places to send them, mostly, the officials say, because Medicaid cuts have sharply reduced financing of Oregon's medical system and curtailed options for patients outside the hospital.


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