Willowbrook State School

Willowbrook State School was a state-supported institution for children with mental retardation located in central Staten Island in New York City. The school gained notoriety in the 1960s for an unethical medical study conducted there, and in the 1970s further abuses uncovered at the school were the stimulus for new civil rights legislation. The school was closed in 1987, and the former grounds were redeveloped extensively to serve as the campus of the College of Staten Island.

History

Construction

In 1938, plans were formulated to build a facility for children with mental retardation on a 375 acres (1.5 km²) site in the Willowbrook section of the Staten Island. Construction was completed in 1942, but instead of opening for its original purpose, it was converted into a United States Army hospital and named Halloran General Hospital, after the late Colonel Paul Stacey Halloran. After the war, proposals were introduced to turn the site over to the Veterans Administration, but in October, 1947 the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene opened its facility there as originally planned, and the institution was named Willowbrook State School.

Hepatitis Studies

Throughout the first decade of its operation, outbreaks of hepatitis were common at the school, and this led to a highly controversial medical study being conducted there between 1963 and 1966, in which healthy children were intentionally inoculated, orally and by injection, with the virus that causes the disease, then monitored to gauge the effects of gamma globulin in combating it. A public outcry forced the study to be discontinued.

More Scandals and Abuses

Further problems dogged the institution: In early 1972, Geraldo Rivera, then an investigative reporter for television station WABC-TV in New York City, conducted a series of investigations at Willowbrook (on the heels of a previous series of articles in the "Staten Island Advance" and "Staten Island Register" newspapers), uncovering a host of deplorable conditions, including overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities, and physical and sexual abuse of residents by members of the school's staff. Rivera later appeared on the nationally televised Dick Cavett Show with film of patients at the school.

The school was originally intended to house 2000 students, but around the time the scandals at the institution gained attention there were almost 5000 residents. This resulted in a class-action lawsuit being filed against the State of New York in federal court on March 17, 1972. A settlement in the case was reached on May 5, 1975, mandating reforms at the site, but several years would elapse before all of the violations were corrected. The publicity generated by the case was a major contributing factor to the passage of a federal law, called the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980.

Closing the School

In 1975, a "Willowbrook Consent Decree" was signed. This committed New York State to improve community placement for the now designated "Willowbrook class". [http://www.omr.state.ny.us/journal/20aniv/hp_journal2mile.jsp Milestones in OMRDD's History] , "OMRDD", (2001-09-19)accessdate|2007-09-05]

In 1983, the State of New York announced plans to close Willowbrook, which had been renamed the Staten Island Developmental Center in 1974. By the end of March 1986, the number of residents housed there had dwindled to 250 (down from 5,000 at the height of the scandal exposed by Rivera), and the last children left the grounds on September 17, 1987.

After the developmental center closed, the site became the focus of intense local debate about what should be done with the property. In 1989 a portion of the land was acquired by the City of New York, with the intent of using it to establish a new campus for the College of Staten Island, and the new campus opened at Willowbrook in 1993 (at the same time, one of CSI's two other existing campuses, located in the island's Sunnyside neighborhood, was closed and that site became the home of a new high school, Michael Petrides). At 0.8 km² (204 acres), this campus is the largest maintained by the City University of New York.

The remaining 0.7 km² (171 acres) of the state school's original property, at the south end, is still under the administration of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, which maintains a research laboratory facility there called the Institute For Basic Research in Developmental Disorders.

On February 25 1987, the Federal Court approved the Willowbrook "1987 Stipulation", which set forth guidelines for OMRDD that required OMRDD community placement for the "Willowbrook Class".

ee also

*New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton
*Walter E. Fernald State School
*Developmental disability
*Tuskegee Syphilis Study
*Geraldo Rivera

References


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