- History of Kings Park Psychiatric Center -
In the 19th century, metropolitan institutions for the mentally ill were extremely overcrowded. The hospitals were veritable warehouses for the poor, insane, and those with no where else to go. New York City doctors, who followed the teachings of Dorthea Dix and other reformers, felt that the ill would have a better chance at recovery further east, out on Long Island where there was more open space and fresh air. Their recommendations resulted in a "moral" method of treatment where patients would do manual labor and then relax in beautiful surroundings. Three state hospitals were constructed on Long Island to serve these purposes: Central Islip, Pilgrim State, and Kings Park.
The Kings Park Lunatic Asylum was established in 1885 on more than 800 acres. Fifty-five patients were moved into three wooden houses. However, as more buildings were constructed, patients came to fill them. In the beginning, almost half of the employees were Irish immigrants. The state took over control of the facility in 1895 due to complaints of patronage and waste of resources from the staff and public. The name was changed to Kings Park State Hospital.
A self-sufficient farm community was established, providing work for thousands of staff members and nurses. In addition, an average of seventy percent of the patients worked various jobs on the hospital grounds. In 1900, the hospital housed 2,697 patients and 454 staff members, giving the hospital a larger population than the Town of Smithtown. There were over 150 permanent buildings, including a laundry, bakery, library, nursing school, recreation hall, bandstand, and many repair and construction shops. Kings Park constructed its own railroad spurs in order to bring in coal and supplies from the LIRR line. KPPC's mentally ill population peaked in 1954 with 9,300 patients.
Eventually, the staggering size of the chronic patient population coupled with ever-growing admission rates filled the dormitories beyond capacity. With no resources to invest in much other than basic custodial care, manual labor and relaxation gave way to more drastic techniques for treatment.
Insulin shock therapy, electric shock therapy, prefrontal lobotomies were all used at the three Long-Island hospitals. In the 50s, pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, & French began marketing Thorazine directly through the state governments to the hospitals. People who used to need constant supervision in a hospital setting were now able to lead more normal lives in the outside world, with their medication.
Also, the state of New York began to realize that it could no longer finance the growing costs of the state hospitals, and in 1955 completed the Mental Health Study Act. It called for the abolition of state hospitals and the redirecting of federal funds to build community centers for the mentally ill and finance research into psychoactive drugs.
At Kings Park, they employed social workers in placing the patients in less-restrictive care, or for the more serious cases, Pilgrim State. Admission standards were altered to admit fewer patients, and the elderly were redirected to nursing homes. Eventually, with very few patients left living in the buildings, parts of Kings Park closed down (the top few floors of the huge building 93 were closed in the 1970s) until no one was left in 1996. Critics of deinstitutionalization claim that not enough money or time was spent on adequate community-based care. In fact, many discharged patients ended up on the streets with medication, but no follow-up care.
Since 1996, several proposals have been made as to what to do with the land. In 2000, the northernmost grounds of Kings Park were transformed into The Nissequogue River State Park, preserving the land from commercial and residential development. In 2001, a real estate developer published a large study of the grounds, making many recommendations for possible redevelopment options for the remainder of the land. Also in 2001, the through-road that connects 25A and St. Johnland Road was reopened to public traffic. Currently there is a project, still in the planning stages, to convert Building 15 into government offices.