F1 in Harrison, N.Y., is celebrating 125 years of continuous service to the mentally ill. The history of Saint Vincent’s mirrors the progress of the treatment of the mentally ill in the United States.
In 1876, the Sisters of Charity purchased 96 acres in Harrison. A large home on the property was to be used as a summer residence for frail, sick children from the New York Foundling Hospital. The spacious grounds, fertile soil, and plentiful farm produce seemed to make this an ideal location for the children to regain their strength. However, 2 years later, as the result of a poor sanitation system in the town, typhoid fever broke out, and although the children survived, one nun and two staff members died from the disease, and the property was abandoned.
In late 1879, after the town sanitation problems were corrected, the sisters found a new outlet for their good works—the care of the mentally ill—and the facility came to be known as Saint Vincent’s Retreat for the Insane. It was staffed with seven sisters and one physician, H. Ernest Schmid, M.D. The Retreat soon had a waiting list for admissions, and between 1879 and 1918, eight buildings were constructed to accommodate more patients and live-in staff. The 1900 census reported 60 patients, 29 staff, and 22 sisters.
The 1919 Medical Director’s Report submitted by Swepson J. Brooks, M.D., told of "modern" treatment tools, including diet, hydrotherapy, and "amusement" (sports games). To reflect a growing understanding of the nature of mental illness, in 1920 the name was changed to Saint Vincent’s Retreat for Nervous and Mental Diseases. In the 1940s and the early 1950s, ECT and insulin therapy were introduced. In 1953 the name was changed again, to Saint Vincent’s Hospital of Westchester County. The new name reflected the advancement of the concept that mental illness could be treated as scientifically and as effectively as any other type of disease. The 1950s brought many changes to Saint Vincent’s, including its first male patients, a residency program, the development of an outpatient service, and a modern 103-bed pavilion to replace the obsolete wood-framed structures.
Saint Vincent’s Westchester merged with Saint Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York in 1961, and Harvey J. Tompkins, M.D., Chairman of Saint Vincent’s Department of Psychiatry and the 93rd President of APA (1966–1967), became the hospital’s medical leader. In 1973, the Chairmanship of the Department passed to current Chair Joseph T. English, M.D., who was APA’s 119th President (1992–1993).
Today the hospital offers a full continuum of psychiatric and substance abuse care, including inpatient, partial, outpatient, and continuing day treatment and 24-hour emergency psychiatry evaluation. Psychiatric training occurs for residents and medical students through an affiliation with New York Medical College, and more than 6,500 individuals are served annually at the hospital.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Milone at Saint Vincent’s Hospital Westchester, 275 North St., Harrison, NY 10528; firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail). Photograph reprinted courtesy of St. Vincent’s Hospital Westchester.