It is indeed unfortunate that thousands of poor “sane” men, women, and children who lived and died in the county poor houses and other charitable institutions of our country were buried in unmarked, anonymous graves, but their final resting places can be marked with an engraved headstone. The same rule does not apply for those who were labeled “insane.” It is frustrating for family researchers who are interested in obtaining information about their ancestors who were incarcerated at one of these long closed insane asylums because of the federal HIPAA Law which states, “The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.” Everyone has been forced to sign HIPAA documents at their doctor’s office. Most people interpret this law as one that applies to living individuals, not to people who have been dead for over one hundred years. What is even more confusing is that a few states have interpreted the law differently than New York State. NEW HIPAA Update 2013.
The Inmates of Willard, as well as all former inmates of New York State Hospitals, deserve a cemetery that is clearly marked with a dignified, cemetery appropriate sign. It should be well maintained and treated with respect like any other cemetery as a place where descendants and friends gather to pay respects, lay flowers, or meditate in silence. Some states have released the names of former patients buried in anonymous graves at these long-closed, state owned mental institutions, and they have allowed engraved headstones to be placed on the graves. In some cases, these states have provided funding for the headstones. It is my hope that the names of the patients buried in anonymous graves in cemeteries owned or formerly owned by the State of New York will be made available to the public in a unified, searchable, digital database. If these current laws are not modified, these people will forever remain forgotten and anonymous. After 143 years, the time has come to accept the mistakes of the past and turn a wrong into a right by releasing the names of the people buried at the Willard State Hospital Cemetery and all people buried anonymously in state mental institution cemeteries across America. They have waited long enough.
Thousands of people were incarcerated in state insane asylums during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anonymous burials are common for state mental institutions across New York State and the country. People genuinely do care and are interested in the way their ancestors were treated, how they died, and where they were buried.
Hopefully bill S2514-2013 will soon become a law and will include provisions for a searchable database available to the public. Interested people need to contact their New York State Senators and Assembly Persons to let them know that this bill needs to become a law so that these forgotten, anonymous souls will finally be remembered.
The list of these former New York State Hospitals includes but is not limited to: Binghamton, Buffalo, Central Islip, Creedmoor, Dannemora, Edgewood, Gowanda, Hudson River, Kings Park, Long Island, Manhattan, Matteawan, Middletown, Mohansic, Pilgrim, Rochester, St. Lawrence, Syracuse, Utica, and Willard.
The Feeble-Minded (Intellectual Disabilities) and Epileptic Custodial Institutions of New York includes but is not limited to: Craig Colony for Epileptics, Letchworth Village for Epileptics & Intellectually Disabled, Newark State School for Intellectually Disabled Women, Rome State School for Intellectually Disabled Adults & Children, and Syracuse State School for Intellectually Disabled Children. There may be more.