Friday, January 29, 2010
This article is authored and owned entirely by my wife Jeanette Stonecipher.
Why were the Willowbrooks able to exist? I believe that the intentions of the medical professionals were to have a safe, comfortable and productive environment for places like Willowbrook, but instead "professionals" were hired to run these facilities. There lack of training and burn out was a contributing factor that social workers and caregivers experienced. Compounding this problem is that legislation was not in place to protect individuals who were placed in these institutions.
If Kennedy stated they were snake pits in the late 1960's and Geraldo went in with his hidden camera in 1972, why did it take till 1987 to close it down completely? History has shown us that when it comes to making changes within social and health situations our government is slow to react. In my state of Washington, non-profit agencies have advocated to our state legislators for several years to close our mental institutions. Western State Hospital is currently one of the largest mental institutions in the nation. According to Wikipedia (2009), "Western State Hospital is a mental hospital on the former Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood, Washington. The largest psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi, it is administered by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). It opened in 1871, predating statehood by almost twenty years, and is the second oldest state institution after the University of Washington.  For about three months in 1944 and much of 1945-1950 (except for a brief parole in 1946), actress Frances Farmer was committed there by her mother.
According to my co-worker who has an adult child that has disability issues, she used this institution for respite. My co-worker was extremely angry when she knew that Western State Hospital was in the process of closing its doors. I have heard from professionals as well as those who argue that Western State Hospital should remain. There argument is based from advocates that the sprawling grounds provide patients the opportunity to enjoy the plush greenery. If the patients were forced to live in community based housing, they would lose the beautiful Western Washington Grounds. In my opinion, this argument is a backwards way of thinking. This thinking continues to de-humanize the perception of people with intellectual disabilities. All people with disabilities should be afforded the right to choose to live in community based housing. They should have the right to choose where to live, who their friends are and have community access just as anyone else would.
What does this type of treatment of individuals tells me about what we thought of disabilities is that maybe society thought people were subhuman and didn’t have any rights. Parents felt they didn’t have any options and may not have wanted to know what was going on. Parents didn’t question authority because doctors and social workers are they experts.
For more on Disability issues see my friend Carol at Journey through the Cortex: Journey Through My GI System Continued: I get a Barium Swallow
Journey through the Cortex: Journey Through My GI System Continued: I get a Barium Swallow