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.