Lost Hospital — Allentown State Hospital, Hanover Township, Pennsylvania0

In 1901, Pennsylvania’s passed a new law “to Provide for the Selection of a Site and the Erection of a State Hospital for the Treatment of the Insane Under Homeopathic Management, to be Called the Homeopathic State Hospital for the Insane, and Making an Appropriation Therefor.”

With an appropriation of $300,000 (“or as much thereof as may be necessary”), a section in Hanover Township, near Allentown, was chosen for the location of this new hospital (originally named Pennsylvania State Homeopathic Asylum), spanning over 209 acres.  Finally completed in 1912 after many delays, Allentown State Hospital was located between Allentown and Bethlehem, right along the Allentown and Bethlehem Electric Line.

The hospital campus contained buildings for administration and patients, as well as two chapels and facilities for dining, an auditorium, a kitchen, a boiler, and a power plant.  The total cost for the entire campus was just under $2 million. Patients began to arrive on October 3, 1912, and by February 1, 1913, the census reached 820.

Patients received a comprehensive mental and physical examination, including detailed family histories. The hospital had laboratory equipment, an x-ray device, dental equipment, and a medical library.

The operations of the hospital expanded over the years, with its census reaching an all time high in 1950 of 2,012.  By 2008, the census was 175, a reflection of the decreasing patient populations in mental health facilities, due in part to changes in legislation as well as advances in medication.

At one point in time, Allentown State Hospital had a specialty unit for psychiatrically impaired children (the Mental Health Institute for Children), and it was the only such institution in Pennsylvania until 1960. That unit closed in 1992.

During the 1990s, the hospital tried to keep up with the industry changes, reducing the use of restraints and debilitating medications. In 1992 the hospital created a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) to meet the needs of individuals in crisis, using restraints only as a last resort.  By 1998, Allentown State Hospital was “seclusion free,” a first in the nation.

By October 2009, however, there were rumors of the possible closure of Allentown State Hospital. A public announcement was made in January 2010.  At the time, Acting Secretary of Public Welfare Harriet Dichter explained the reasons for the proposed closure.

“For more than 25 years, Pennsylvania has been on the leading edge of developing local partnerships and community based service options that promote recovery for people living with mental illness, As facilities close, we open doors to opportunities for residents to live their lives to the fullest by returning to their homes and communities as contributing members of society, all while managing their own health and well-being.”

The facility closed on December 15, 2010. Sherry Snyder, acting deputy secretary of the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at the Department of Public Welfare for Pennsylvania, stated:

“People asked us again and again:  ‘Why Allentown?’ This [closure] is in no way meant to be an indictment of the staff and treatment here. But we know the technology in our world is changing. Why do we believe the technology to support people with mental health needs has not changed?”

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