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A Mad World...Fairview Training Center Up in FlamesBonnie King Salem-News.com
The historic building's demise brings to light the evolution and consequences of aged mental health misnomers.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Fairview, the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded, was established by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1907. It opened just outside Salem one year later with 39 residents that were transferred from the Oregon State Hospital.
Built on a 670 acre plot, Fairview was specifically charged with "the care and training of such feeble-minded, idiotic, epileptic, and defective persons as have been or may hereafter be committed to its custody." Nothing politically-correct about their verbiage and they didn’t hesitate to put people on the intake roll.
Many of the first patients were epileptic; few of them were severely physically handicapped. Therefore, an emphasis was placed on training them for practical work. Developing skills and learning a trade is a valuable asset to any individual, and there was no question that it was appropriate to put these folks to work. Without a daily wage, they were also a very good value.
Fairview was more than an institution; it was also a large farm. By 1920, 400 acres were used for crops and 45 acres for orchards, the patients also raised hogs, chickens, and both dairy and beef cattle.
In 1917, a commitment law was passed to standardize admissions and to insure that valuable space was used for the "feeble-minded" and not the "insane." It also stated that no one under 5 years of age was to be admitted. This age limitation was removed four years later. Children by the score were “raised” at Fairview.
The Ultimate Betrayal
In 1923, the Board of Eugenics was formed. Roughly based on the idea of "natural selection", eugenics was the belief that society should be "improved" by keeping "unfit or unwanted" people from having children.
The institution’s superintendent served as an ex-officio member of the board that provided for the "sterilization of all feeble-minded, insane, epileptics, habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sexual perverts who are a menace to society." The board examined the mental and physical condition of institutionalized individuals who could “produce offspring inheriting inferior or antisocial traits” and decided who should or shouldn’t have the right to reproduce.
Many were forced by state law to undergo sterilization surgery before they could be allowed to leave the institution. Others who were sterilized included criminals, homosexuals, and teenage girls who "misbehaved". By 1929, 300 Fairview residents had been sterilized.
Parole for residents was established in 1931. Parole had five requirements:
The connection between parole and sterilization was not “explicit”, per the state, but it was obvious: two-thirds of the residents that were sterilized were paroled. Germany's dictator Adolph Hitler also appreciated the American sterilization laws. He saw them as an acceptable outline for his Nazi plan under which hundreds of thousands of Europeans were forcibly sterilized without consent, legally.
The "science" behind eugenics was easily disproved in the latter half of the century, after more than 60,000 American men, women, boys and girls had experienced unnecessary castrations, vasectomies, hysterectomies or tubal ligations in 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Too late for too many.
The Mental Health Division was created in 1961 to oversee mental health services in Oregon, and laws establishing the policy for providing services to retarded persons were passed in the same year.
In 1967, the Legislative Assembly finally created more restrictive provisions for ordering sterilization, and changed the board’s name from Eugenics to Social Protection. The board was transferred to the Health Division in 1971 and abolished in 1983, when, as a state senator, John Kitzhaber was on the committee that wrote language to throw out Oregon's archaic 1917 sterilization law.
In 2002, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber apologized to victims of the eugenics policy. He said, "The time has come to apologize for misdeeds that resulted from widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry. It's the right thing to do, the just thing to do. The time has come to apologize for public policies that labeled people as 'defective' simply because they were ill, and declared them unworthy to have children of their own."
Finding Their Way Home
In 1980, Oregon was the first state to get a federal waiver to use Medicaid money for community-based services. With the tougher regulations, the federal government took more notice of Fairview. Federal inspectors showed up and critiqued health and safety problems, instances of abuse, and violations of rules including civil rights concerns.In 1985, USDOJ found major civil rights violations and life-threatening conditions, and filed suit along with the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) and parents of Fairview residents. Within a year, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) cut off Medicaid funding over safety and staffing issues and the tug of war for funding continued.
Aggressive measures were undertaken to improve the policies and practices at Fairview and Medicaid funds were restored in 1987. Still, state officials contended that federal officials ignored improvements.
In 1988, HCFA revisited the institution and verified that some of the immediate problems had been corrected, but decided to cut off Medicaid funds again due to concerns about "active treatment" plans. The lawsuits had taken their toll on the old institution, and they no longer could envision a future with the same needs as the past.
From 1989-91 Fairview funding was increased, downsizing was eminent, and community placement programs were developed. Times had changed, and progressive alternatives to institutionalizing the ill had shown to be highly successful. Fairview created a Long Term Plan calling for transferring all residents to community based residential and vocational programs and completely closing the institution by July 2000.
In 1999, population at Fairview had fallen to a mere 300 patients, down from 3,000 at its peak. Oregon lawmakers passed a law earmarking money generated from any sale of former institution property to go into a Fairview Community Housing Trust Fund. Interest from the trust fund and up to 5 percent of the principle are to be held for special grants so people with developmental disabilities can live as independently as possible in their homes.
The 274-acre Fairview campus was sold to a group of investors to develop the Pringle Creek community with houses, industries, businesses and stores within a closed-loop economy. The sale is expected to generate $15.1 million over six years, according to an Oregon Department of Human Services press statement.
In 2004, $145,000 was awarded to 63 families around the state. $150,000 more was available in the form of individual grants of $5,000 or less to purchase such things as wheelchair ramps, bathroom modifications, assistive technology and other equipment. None of the money can go to licensed facilities.
Thousands of people passed through the doors of Fairview. They lived, worked, learned, strived and survived the daily life of being institutionalized. Some spent their entire lives there, and some died nameless to the outside world. The battalion of healthcare workers that tended to patients came in many varieties, but most gave their all, every day, with sincerity and tenacity, to ensure that the needs of the patients were met. Many have recalled their relationships with patients, and the bonds they developed.
There is good and bad in everything, and that is the case with Fairview. No one gets a free pass for the crimes they commit against humanity, but neither should positive contributions go unacknowledged.
On February 17th, 2000, the last few residents moved out of the institution and into the community. Fairview was closed for good.
And the band plays on.
Sources: Oregon Blue Book; Inclusion Daily; Wikipedia; personal accounts.
Bonnie King has been with Salem-News.com since August '04, when she became Publisher. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER). Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers.
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