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How the Forest Haven Asylum went from Haven to Hell

When people hear the word asylum, what comes into their mind is a creepy place where mentally-incapacitated patients are subjected to experimental treatments. This view of asylum being a horrible place may have come from numerous movies that depict asylums as being so. Movies such as Shutter Island and Stonehearst Asylum provided people with a look at the horrors of what goes on inside the walls of a mental hospital.

The Forest Haven Asylum Opening

Forest Haven Asylum, which opened in 1925, was supposed to change people’s perspective when it comes to asylums. The asylum site was in Laurel, Maryland and is 20 miles outside the city of Washington D.C. Forest Haven was designed to be a refuge for mentally-impaired patients. It was built in a lust forest so that patients can enjoy the natural environment. Built within a 300-acre area, Forest Haven had its farm where patients can interact with livestock such as milking cows. Likewise, patients can also tend to crops. The wide area of Forest Haven allowed patients to get enough time to exercise and bask in the outdoor sun. The goal of Forest Haven was to provide its patients with opportunities to gain useful life skills.

The Impressive Forest Haven Building

Forest Haven had 30 buildings and, at its height of operations, housed more than a thousand patients. For a while, Forest Haven’s operation worked well. Patients were part of a farming community where each developed a set of useful life skills. In 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even attended a dedication ceremony for one of the additional buildings of Forest Haven. During that time, the new 30000 square foot building was considered “state-of-the-art”, and the funding for Forest Haven came straight from the District of Columbia. Everything worked well for a while.

Forest Haven sat on a 300-acre property

The Decline of Forest Haven

By the 1950s, Forest Haven Asylum began to decline as its amenities have become outdated. Likewise, funding coming from the government were met with numerous problems. With insufficient funding, the upkeep of the asylum was not made. Financial problems also prevented medical staff from keeping up with the latest medical practices. Likewise, the surged in population overwhelmed the staff. Medical personnel and staff were more concerned with keeping the peace and order within the asylum instead of treating them. Because of understaffing, Forest Haven filled positions with unqualified personnel, most of whom began to physically, sexually, and emotionally abuse patients. Hundreds of patients began dying due to neglect.

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By the 1970s, the reports of abuse spread out. Most patients that were thrown into the asylum were often misdiagnosed. In February 1976, Evan’s family filed a class suit, claiming that their daughter, Joy Evans, was a victim of abuse and inhumane treatment from the hands of medical personnel working at Forest Haven. The case was later settled.

However, during the late 1980s, the Justice Department began monitoring the high number of deaths due to improper feeding procedures and decreed that Forest Haven train their staff on proper feeding techniques. When Forest Haven refused to cooperate, the courts decided to close the asylum for good on October 14, 1991.

Riley Brown
Written By

Riley is a history, lifestyle, and entertainment writer living in San Diego. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Multimedia from the University of Oregon. His work has been featured in many finance and lifestyle publications throughout the US. When he is not writing, Riley enjoys reading and hanging out at the beach with his dog.


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