Central State Hospital commemorates 150 years of serving health needs | Richmond Free Press

A key part of the health and history of African Americans in Virginia was celebrated last Thursday, as state health officials and professionals gathered online to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the central state hospital outside of Petersburg.

The virtual event was a significant change in plans for the commemoration, which was originally scheduled to take place on hospital grounds but has been moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“2020 is a year of celebration of service to people with disabilities and severe mental illness,” said Dr. Robert O. Forbes Sr., psychiatrist and former medical director of Central State Hospital who retired in 2018. He is now a member of Friends of Virginia’s Central State Hospital, an advocacy and advocacy group. “This is a year of celebration and heartfelt thanks to all who have served.

The origins of Central State Hospital date back to December 1869, when Edward Canby, Union Army General and Acting Military Governor of Virginia following the Civil War, ordered a former Confederate hospital to Richmond be converted into a state asylum for African Americans with mental health problems. diseases.

A year later, the Virginia General Assembly incorporated it as a state institution, then called the Central Lunatic Asylum, and gave it a new purpose: to house and treat “people of color with mental disabilities” in statewide.

It was the first of its kind in the United States. At the time, it housed 123 “madmen and 100 needy, not mad”, according to the story.

The central state gradually developed over the years, moving from Richmond to Dinwiddie County on a large farm bought by the city of Petersburg. It was renamed Central State Hospital in 1894 and expanded over the decades to accommodate a wider variety of illnesses and conditions, including a geriatric treatment center for the chronically ill, a maximum security forensic unit where people referred by the justice system are assessed and treated, and facilities for the treatment of adolescents and patients in need of treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.

In 1968, several years after federal civil rights legislation was passed, the state of Virginia disaggregated its hospitals and the central state, which had been designated solely for the treatment of African Americans, opened up to everyone. patients, regardless of race.

Currently, Central State Hospital has 229 patients and 829 full-time staff. In addition to its civilian unit, it is also home to the state’s only maximum security mental health unit.

Throughout its history, Central State has hosted a number of performers, including Louis Armstrong, to entertain patients and staff, nursing classes for African Americans, and a variety of community and volunteer events. Some activities have served both as a means of connecting Central State with Dinwiddie County and as a method of coping for patients. Those who spoke at the commemoration often mentioned this heritage, praising the central state for its importance to Virginia then and today.

The STAR Mall, as it is now called, was built on campus in 1962 as a chronic infirmary.  It was redeveloped at the end of the 1990s into a treatment and service area.  In addition to housing mental health treatment groups, the building contains a laboratory set up like a small apartment where patients learn to live independently.  It also contains a library, beauty salon, canteen and clothing store.

“I want to thank you for the work you do to serve our most vulnerable Virginians and treat them with compassion,” Governor Ralph S. Northam said in his virtual address. “You were building on a heritage of 150 years of service. “

As part of Central State’s commitment to this service, an agreement was reached with authorities in Virginia last year to build a new $ 315 million facility with more modern patient housing and to meet a number of technological and logistical issues on the 543-acre campus. This includes increased security and safety, allowing for better collaboration between staff and making Central State a bigger part of the community, as detailed by Dr. Brandi Justice, interim CEO of Central State Hospital.

The new facility would replace 13 obsolete buildings.

However, those present at the anniversary commemoration made it clear that the new facility would not constitute all of the central state’s work, but would be a tool in the service of others.

“We are not a building,” said Dr Justice. “We are a community and a people and this building is just going to make it much easier to take care of the people we serve. “

At present, the new central state facility is still in the design phase, with construction scheduled to begin in the summer of 2021, according to Alison G. Land, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

During the commemoration, central state officials, staff and supporters said they remained committed to ensuring the continuation of the hospital’s “150 years of constant service,” as Dr Forbes called it. .

“Some very special things have happened in the central state, are happening in the central state,” said Dr Forbes, “and will be as we look to the future.”

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