Cleveland State Hospital Exposed

In 1951, newspaper reporter Al Ostrow arrived at the Cleveland State Hospital and managed to get hired on the spot as an aide. He wrote about his time at the hospital in a series of articles for the Cleveland Press. The title of his exposé, "Whose fault is this?," provides the intent behind Ostrow's investigative reporting. His articles are riveting pieces of prose that keep readers on the edge of their seats. He describes an overcrowded hospital in desperate need of trained staff--both problems that they cannot seem to overcome. In order to embed himself in the hospital, Ostrow gave very little information of former jobs or places of residence, allowing him the opportunity to witness firsthand the indiscriminate hiring practices of the hospital.

As an aide, Ostrow was able to see for himself the kind of treatment patients received in the facility at the hands of their aides. He describes aides beating and restraining uncooperative patients. Ostrow's investigations furthered the efforts of those in the Cleveland community who wished to reform the mental hospital, but there were factors that impeded any change in the grand scheme of the hospital's organization and patient care.

In 1955, only four years after Al Ostrow's stint in the Cleveland State Hospital as an aide, another Press reporter, Bus Bergen, was admitted as a patient. Previously, Bergen had gone undercover to pen an exposé on prison inmates. When Bergen arrived at the Cleveland State Hospital, he became patient no. 40591 under the assumed name Howard Berger, allegedly suffering from a mental illness. "Berger" spent time interacting with the patients as he lived with them and slept in the same cramped quarters. This view of the Cleveland State Hospital is even more upsetting than that of Ostrow's time as an aide because Bergen lived among the patients and had the opportunity to see them in an even more intimate setting.

Bergen describes the daily activities of the men in Ward C that are absolutely heartbreaking. Some patients carried around and fought over newspapers that were weeks old just to have something to pass the time. Cigarettes were used as currency and were often hard to come by. He describes patients who sat around all day with nothing to do, basically languishing in unkempt wards. Worst of all were the sleeping arrangements. Bergen describes hundreds of beds crammed into a large dormitory that range from two to 18 inches apart.

Such treatment of the mentally ill in state hospitals was hardly unique to Cleveland. State institutions all over the country as well as the state of Ohio had troubles with overcrowding due to an overwhelming number of new patients being admitted. For instance, the state hospital in Athens, Ohio, was known to have more than twice the number of patients than the building's capacity. Until exposés like those seen in Cleveland (as well as famous exposés nationally) started raising awareness of patient treatment, state hospitals were allowed to continue operating with poor conditions.

With exposés done by reporters like Bus Bergen and Al Ostrow, there was a significant amount of coverage in newspapers for everyday people to read about the lack of proper care in state hospitals. However, the trend of moving mental patients out of the state hospitals and back into the community was only considered once care conditions within institutions became more widely known and discussed. After World War II, a strong distrust of psychiatric facilities and scandals of controversial psychotherapies like lobotomies came to light that led to the idea of deinstitutionalizing patients and moving towards family or community care. This shift can be attributed to the increasing exposure of the type of care mentally ill patients received and the creation of medical associations founded to reform the medical community in general.

Images

Al Ostrow at Cleveland State Hospital

Al Ostrow at Cleveland State Hospital

This photo shows Press reporter Al Ostrow walking up the front path with a doctor from the hospital in October of 1951. The photo is a good example of how small people look in comparison to the imposing facade of the Cleveland State Hospital. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Hospital Attendant Lights a Cigarette for Patient Bus Bergen

Hospital Attendant Lights a Cigarette for Patient Bus Bergen

Pictured here is an attendant lighting a cigarette for "patient" Bus Bergen on October 12, 1955. To people today it seems contrary to have cigarettes in a hospital setting, yet they were a form of currency, not unlike in a prison. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Bus Bergen's Medical Examination

Bus Bergen's Medical Examination

On October 12, 1955, Bus Bergen's first day in the hospital, he received an examination by Dr. Frederick Badt. This was, as one would imagine, a necessary first step after being admitted to the hospital. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Bus Bergen Receives His Clothes

Bus Bergen Receives His Clothes

Pictured here on his first day in the hospital on October 12, 1955, Bus Bergen receives his clothes from an attendant. He would wear these same clothes during the entirety of his stay at the Cleveland State Hospital. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Bus Bergen Enters Ward C

Bus Bergen Enters Ward C

Pictured here, attendant George Collins lets Bus Bergen into a locked Ward C on October 14, 1955. Locked wards were commonplace in order to keep patients secure, as there were not enough attendants or aides to watch over the large number of people. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Bus Bergen Talks to Dr. Tony Looze

Bus Bergen Talks to Dr. Tony Looze

This photograph shows "patient" Bus Bergen talking to Doctor Tony Looze in one of the large rooms that patients could go to sit in. This photo is from his third day in the hospital, October 14, 1955. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Shackles in the Aides' Room

Shackles in the Aides' Room

Taken on October 18, 1955 in part for Al Ostrow's investigation of Cleveland State Hospital, this photo shows a storage closet in the aides' room where shackles were held for patients that were uncooperative. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Restraints Located in Aides' Room

Restraints Located in Aides' Room

On October 18, 1951 this photo was captured in the same aides' room as the pile of shackles. The restraints pictured here would often hold unruly patients and be used for punishment as well as protective restraint. Judging by the date, this photo was probably used in conjunction with Al Ostrow's expos©. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Head Aide Leslie Mugford Poses With New Hospital Ambulance

Head Aide Leslie Mugford Poses With New Hospital Ambulance

Leslie Mugford, pictured here, was the head aide that hired Ostrow one year prior. This photo from August 6, 1952 shows Mugford posing in front of a new ambulance the hospital recently acquired. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Pillow Cottage Congregation

Pillow Cottage Congregation

The top floor of the institution was known as 'Pillow Cottage.' where this photograph was taken on November 8, 1951. This scene is typical in that there was not much for patients at Cleveland State Hospital to do but congregate in large rooms. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jessica Carmosino, “Cleveland State Hospital Exposed,” Cleveland Historical, accessed February 22, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/574.

Subjects

comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story