Oregon State Hospital

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Oregon State Hospital
State of Oregon
Main building of Oregon State Hospital (2007)
Location Salem, Oregon, United States
Coordinates 44°56′23″N 123°00′13″W / 44.93979°N 123.00348°W / 44.93979; -123.00348Coordinates: 44°56′23″N 123°00′13″W / 44.93979°N 123.00348°W / 44.93979; -123.00348
Care system Public
Hospital type psychiatric hospital
Emergency department No
Beds 620
Founded 1862
Website www.oregon.gov/DHS/...
Lists Hospitals in Oregon

Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon, United States, is the primary state-run psychiatric hospital in the state of Oregon since Dammasch State Hospital closed in 1995. The 620-bed facility is best known as the filming location for the Academy Award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.[1] The aging facility (along with the state legislature which funds it) has been criticized as providing substandard mental health care.[2]


Nineteenth century[edit]

Built in 1883 as the "Oregon State Insane Asylum," much of the original structure remains in use. Some wings of the original building, however, have been off-limits due to physical deterioration.

Hospital circa 1920

The original Oregon Hospital for the Insane was established by J.C. Hawthorne in what was then East Portland, Oregon, (now the Hawthorne District). The facility was built in 1862, and the street on which it was built was renamed Asylum Avenue. Local residents protested about the name, however, and it was renamed Hawthorne in honor of the hospital's founder in 1888.[3]

The street in Salem on which the current hospital is located, Center Street, was also originally named Asylum Avenue.[4]

50 Building (2015)

Twentieth century[edit]

An accidental mass poisoning occurred on November 18, 1942 when scrambled eggs were served for dinner. Within minutes people got stomach cramps, leg cramps, started to vomit, and got respiratory difficulties. Overall, 467 people got sick and 47 people died. Forensic examination determined that the poisoning was due to a mix-up in the kitchen. Instead of powdered milk, sodium fluoride, a poison to kill cockroaches, had been used in the cooking process.[5][6]

Twenty-first century[edit]

Oregon State Hospital Sign (2015)

In 2005, an architectural assessment of the facility determined that the site was unsafe.[1] On August 8, 2006, the hospital was fined USD $10,200 for asbestos violations.[7]

Memorial where cremains from unclaimed patients are kept. (2015)

Another controversy at the hospital involves the fate of over 5000 cans of human cremated remains that are warehoused at the site. The remains were the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by The Oregonian newspaper.[8][9] As of July 2014, state officials had discovered that 1,500 sets of remains may have been lost.[10]

A report from the United States Department of Justice criticized the quality of care provided to patients by the hospital.[11][12][13] A $458 million plan approved by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 2007 called for the construction of a replacement hospital in Salem with as many as 620 beds, as well as a 360-bed facility in Junction City.[11] Most of the dilapidated, 125-year-old main building was torn down and replaced starting in the fall of 2008.[14] Construction of the Salem facility began in 2009, and was completed around 2011; with the Junction City facility being completed by 2013.[11] Salem mayor Janet Taylor has called for the number of beds to be reduced to 320 or fewer, and another hospital facility to be built in or near Portland.[13]

During a 2008 excavation, artifacts dating to an 1850s-era frontier homestead were uncovered on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital campus. Recovered items included earthen dishes, glass windows, a canning jar and a lamp chimney. Further excavation will be required to determine if the artifacts are connected to the 1852 homestead of Morgan L. "Lute" Savage.[15] Construction on the new hospital was completed in 2012, with capacity increased to 620 beds.[16] The hospital also created room for the Museum of Mental Health.[16] The museum is located in the Kirkbride Building but it is operated by a non-profit organization that is separate from the hospital administration. It includes history about many of the discontinued practices that are no longer considered proper treatment for mental illnesses as well as updates on current practices.[16]

Population and administration[edit]

About two-thirds of the hospital's patients in 2008 had been found guilty of crimes, and also to be insane. Others were a danger to themselves or to others.[11] A 2005 census of the state hospitals in Oregon (in Salem, Portland, and Pendleton) listed close to 750 patients.[17] The Oregon Department of Corrections also treats persons with mental illness and a 2004 report found that 1623 prisoners in the state prison facilities had serious and persistent mental illness.[18]

In March 2005, the state closed the adolescent treatment ward of the Oregon State Hospital,[19] which now provides services only to people over the age of 18. Greg Roberts is the current Superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Nena Strickland was an Interim Superintendent of Oregon State Hospital effective April 2, 2010, and she succeeded Roy J. Orr, who resigned at the request of Richard Harris, then Deputy Director of Addictions and Mental Health, following the release of a state report which concluded that the hospital failed to provide adequate care and treatment for a patient, Moises Perez, age 42, who died there in October 2009. Orr had been Superintendent since February 25, 2008.[20] Harris, now head of Oregon Health Authority's[21] Addictions and Mental Health Division,[20] has current responsibility for state hospitals in Salem, Portland and Pendleton, in addition to the staff who work with county governments to deliver statewide mental-health and addiction services.[22] The previous state hospital administrator was Marvin Fickle from 2004–2008.[23] Stan Mazur-Hart was administrator from 1991–2004.[24]

The occupied Center Street wing of OSH (2007)

Tunnels and narrow-gauge railroad[edit]

The remains of a narrow gauge railroad can be seen on the grounds of the hospital, leading into different tunnels and buildings. The tunnels allowed the hospital to move patients between buildings without the public observing and are marked by purple-colored[25] glass prisms embedded in the roads to provide lighting.[26] The tunnels connect different buildings of the State Hospital together. The narrow gauge railroad did extend to the penitentiary but not within a tunnel; remnants of this line still existed as of February 2009.[27] The State Capitol and associated buildings also have a tunnel system to this day (parts of which are publicly accessible) but they have never been connected to the State Hospital.

While the narrow gauge railroad is no longer used, the tunnels were once used daily to deliver food, laundry, and other items, and occasionally patients between different buildings. The rails are no longer evident in many places and the flangeways are filled in, leaving only the head of the rail exposed.[27]

At one point transport within the tunnels was by means of electric carts and occasionally bicycles. When the railroad was used, cars made of bamboo were pushed to their destinations.[27] Few spurs or sidings were found on the railroad, so cars were simply stopped on the track where it was necessary to load or unload them, and then pushed away. A number of the bamboo railroad cars were converted to non-rail cars by removing the railroad wheels and adding casters; one of these cars is displayed in the Oregon State Hospital Mental Health Museum.[28]

In addition to the narrow gauge railroad, a standard gauge railroad spur from the Southern Pacific's Geer Branch extended north from the penitentiary to the State Hospital. A portion of the grade of this spur remains along with two short portions of the standard gauge rails embedded in asphalt within and outside of a wood products manufacturing area on the hospital grounds. This spur has been unused for many years and the Geer Branch itself was abandoned in the mid-1990s.

Notable patients[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Trust for Historic Preservation story: "Oregon Hospital Receives Bad Diagnosis" Archived September 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Michelle Roberts (23 October 2004). "Senator Fears Loss of Hospital". The Oregonian / Carter Center. Retrieved 2013-05-29. Peter Courtney urges legislators to act on problems at the Oregon State Hospital before it faces a federal lawsuit or a court seizure. Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said Friday that conditions at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem are so appalling the institution is vulnerable to a federal lawsuit and possible takeover by the courts. 
  3. ^ Historic Context: Hawthorne Boulevard from SE 20th to SE 55th Ave[permanent dead link] (PDF)
  4. ^ Michelle Roberts, "Years in the Shadows," The Oregonian, October 31, 2004.
  5. ^ Kathleen Carlson Clements. "467 Poisoned at Oregon State Hospital". Salem Online History. Retrieved August 3, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Unsuspecting Poisoner of 47 At a Hospital in 1942 Is Dead". New York Times. October 4, 1983. Retrieved August 4, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Hospital fined for asbestos violations"[permanent dead link], Statesman-Journal, August 8, 2006
  8. ^ Attig, Rick; Doug Bates (January 9, 2005). "All the lonely people". The Oregonian.  (2006 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Editorial)
  9. ^ Kershaw, Sarah, "Long-Forgotten Reminders of Oregon's Mentally Ill", The New York Times, March 14, 2005
  10. ^ Kullgren, Ian K. (July 3, 2014). "Missing dead: 1,500 from old Oregon State Hospital cemetery in Salem can't be found". The Oregonian. Retrieved August 31, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d Lehman (February 22, 2008). "State Needs Both A New Hospital and a New System of Care". Oregon Public Broadcasting.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ DOJ report
  13. ^ a b "Salem Mayor gives up fight against state hospital site". The Oregonian. Associated Press. February 18, 2008. 
  14. ^ 'Cuckoo's Nest' Hospital to be Torn Down – AOL News
  15. ^ Gustafson, Alan (March 24, 2008). "Salem's pioneer past surfaces in fragments at state hospital". Statesman Journal. Retrieved 2008-03-25. [dead link]
  16. ^ a b c Cole, Michelle (October 6, 2012). "New Oregon mental health museum gives voice, revisits old truths". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 6, 2012. 
  17. ^ "FOCUS Report". Archived from the original on 2005-03-11. 
  18. ^ http://www.oregon.gov/DOC/docs/managing_mental_illness_in_prison.doc
  19. ^ "DHS news release". Department of Human Services. State of Oregon. January 26, 2005. Retrieved September 1, 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Gustafson, Alan (April 3, 2010). "Oregon State Hospital Superintendent Roy Orr resigns at request of supervisor". Statesman Journal. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Oregon State Hospital - Overview". 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2014. 
  22. ^ Oregon DHS: Reporter tools – Leader biographies and photos Archived April 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ ODHS news release 8/21/07, Fickle retire Archived February 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Oregon DHS: News release, OSH superintendent resignation Archived February 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ Old glass manufactured with manganese turns purple in the sun. Walking Over History: Victoria's Historic Sidewalk Prisms
  26. ^ Esteve, Harry. Capitol scene 2001 Oregon Legislature. The Oregonian, January 8, 2001.
  27. ^ a b c "Oregon State Hospital - Salem, Historic Review. Narrow-Gauge Rail Lines and Building 73" (PDF). February 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2014. 
  28. ^ Kullgren, Ian K. (July 3, 2014). "Photos from the Oregonian". The Oregonian. Retrieved August 31, 2014. 

External links[edit]