BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Blackfoot’s State Hospital South is celebrating 125 years as an institution, and looking back at improvements to campus, treatment, and the stigma surrounding mental illness.”Well, in 1886 those that came to our institution were actually called inmates, and expected to stay for probably the duration of their life,” said hospital administrator Tracey Sessions.
Local news 8 reports that back then, as many as 800 patients were placed in a single dormitory style room with dozens of beds. Adults and kids were together through treatment and working on the farmland.
“In the early days, sometimes it just says date they came in, date they left,” said Sessions.
Today, there’s less stigma surrounding mental illness, and Sessions said life is drastically different on the Blackfoot campus.
It’s a safe place where about 100 people at a time spend an average of 40 days recovering from depression, delusions, hallucinations, to ultimately rejoin society.
“When I see patients get well it really makes my heart feel good,” said Lonny Taylor, an employee of 25 years.
What looks like a big, grassy field is actually the state cemetery patients were buried in up until the 1980s.
1,022 individuals lie beneath the ground, but there are only about 20 headstones.
“I think that does not show the respect or dignity we want for patients that spent their time here,” said Sessions.Hospital administrators and staff are on a mission to change that. They’re looking for monetary and material donations from the community to put headstones on 982 plots and build a memorial for the 40 without a recorded space.
Most of the granite will be recycled from two buildings under demolition.
“Many of us care enough that I don’t think this will ever go away,” said Sessions.
Not until each and every name is set in stone.
In celebration of 125 years, there will be an open house Thursday from 4-6 p.m. at State Hospital South.
There will be pictures, past staff members sharing stories, and a public grounds tour.
To help with headstones, you can attend the open house or call the hospital at 785-1200.