Filed Under Healthcare

Brecksville VA Hospital

The Brecksville Veterans Administration Hospital had a tumultuous history that raised the question of whether the hospital was actually unhealthy for the environment. Although initially embraced by the community, the hospital soon became a lightning rod for concerns that would last many years.

The Brecksville Veterans Administration Hospital was a massive 999-bed facility built as a replacement for an earlier facility of the same name built in 1938 in the village of Broadview Heights, which at the time carried a Brecksville address. When construction was completed on an 87-acre site in Brecksville in 1961, the hospital was one of the largest veterans' hospitals in the U.S. After World War II the growth rate of long-term care patients in the Veterans Administration was over 1,000 a month. In late 1945 the federal government earmarked a generous sum of one billion dollars for the construction of hospitals to serve the large number of veterans needing care.

When the Brecksville facility was built, its designers chose to embrace nature, going so far as to incorporate a natural lake on the premises for use by the patients. However, concerns mounted over pollution generated by the hospital. In 1970 the hospital faced accusations of polluting the air in Brecksville due to the large amounts of coal it burned around the clock in order to heat the dozens of buildings and miles of hospital corridors. In 1971 the hospital administration admitted the Brecksville VA Hospital was severely polluting the air, prompting a switchover to cleaner-burning oil and gas.

The problems the hospital presented to the local community were greater than just pollution in the air and water. The 1970s saw a shift in the attitudes of many local residents toward the hospital. Some of this ill will can be linked to attitudes toward returning Vietnam veterans. At that time there was a prevailing shift in the nation's collective consciousness towards veterans, for never had the U.S. been embroiled in a war that was so controversial or, with the exception of the Korean conflict, with an end result that did not produce victory. In addition, much of the Brecksville communal backlash was due to the problems the Brecksville hospital presented to the community. The local press reported that mental patients from the hospital were escaping and wandering the town, which frightened some residents. In the late 1970s the hospital was also rocked by several scandals, including the theft and sale of prescription drugs. These crimes had led to several dozen convictions by the early 1980s.

Images

Aerial, 1964 Aerial view showing the magnitude of the hospital. Situated on 87 acres, the hospital had 16 major buildings with many minors ones. These were all connected by miles of covered corridor. Capable of caring for up to 999 long term care patients the hospital employed 1150. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Creator: Bernie Noble
Bowling Alley, 1963 The Brecksville Veterans Administration Hospital featured many unique amenities for its long term patients. Included were a movie theater and the six-lane bowling alley seen here. The lanes were revamped in 1971. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Heating Plant, 1967 Seen is the heating plant at the hospital in July, 1967. In needing to provide heat for dozens of buildings and the miles of covered corridor that connected them the plant would burn several tons of coal a day, 24 hours a day. This led to charges that the hospital was polluting the air in Brecksville, which it admitted in 1971. The plant then converted to oil and gas power. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Dignitaries, 1961 Various dignitaries and bureaucrats presiding over the dedication ceremony of the hospital on September 18, 1961. Featured at the center of the podium giving a speech is then Mayor of Brecksville, Robert L. Kubrick. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Dedication, 1961 View from atop the administration building. The dedication ceremony featured a parade of hundreds of veterans along with a full military marching band. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Patient Gardens, 1964 The gardens seen here where patients could plant flowers were just one of the many outdoor features incorporated into the hospital. The planners of the hospital foresaw that they would have many long term residents and decided to utilize much of the 87 acres that were not built upon for outdoor activities they deemed therapeutic. Image Courtesy of courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Hospital Lake, 1963 The hospital designers chose to incorporate and build around this naturally occurring lake. Intended to be a source of therapeutic outdoor fun for the residents to fish and swim in, the lake soon became a problem. In 1969 the community began to accuse the hospital of polluting this lake. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Nurses with Patients, 1963 Many of the residents at the Brecksville VA hospital were there for long-term psychiatric care. At the time they were referred to as simply neurological patients. Doing simple activities, monitored by the staff, was deemed beneficial to their well being. Seen here are, left to right, nurses Bobbie Cummings and Frederick Miller with two patients. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Location

Metadata

Daniel Zamborsky, “Brecksville VA Hospital,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 13, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/594.