I feel the need to say something now that Senator Joseph Robach will not be seeking re-election as a state senator for my district. I believe he sincerely tried to pass a law that would have allowed the people of New York State to know when, where, and how their ancestors died and where they are buried. He is a good man and will be sorely missed! Sadly, the final law that was passed blocked all of us from knowing these facts. The law only helped The NYS Office of Mental Health to continue to keep the records and photographs of deceased patients away from public view. So why did this happen?
In my opinion, the staff person who originally wrote the bill never read any of the information that I had emailed to him thus creating a bill with multiple holes in it. Even though I kept telling him over the course of six years, while patiently waiting for the bill to pass, that this wasn’t what was wanted or needed, he kept saying, “Don’t worry, it is easier to correct and change it once it is passed.” Well, that’s total bullshit! Another problem was a young millennial lawyer who knew NOTHING about this issue, never read my book or blog, and refused to listen to what I had to say and insisted on speaking over me very loudly on the phone, which made me cry, I might add, was concerned that “…New York State could be sued.” He had NO concern for the poor souls who 150 years ago, were buried in anonymous graves in unmarked cemeteries, one of which is now a youth baseball field. So much for sacred ground or respect for the dead. I foolishly thought that these staffers were supposed to be working on behalf of the people of New York State not for the Office of Mental Health. I was wrong!
Then comes the matter of John Allen, the man who was in charge of public relations for the OMH. He was the guy that you had to go to in order to get any information about former DESEASED patients. I spoke to him once. He skirted around the issue the way all bureaucrats do. I was not impressed. Thank God that I never met the man in person to shake his hand. Eww! I have no idea what has happened in his criminal case.
According to one source, Mr. Allen had some 300 volunteers with taxpayer funded Ancestry.com accounts, looking up information on deceased patients from Willard State Hospital, trying to find their descendants, etc. That must have cost taxpayers quite a bit of money! I know that my Ancestry account costs one hundred dollars for six months of access and that’s half off because I’ve been a member! HOW STUPID IS NEW YORK STATE?!?! If they would have adopted and followed Federal Law, none of this would be happening as it ALLOWS FOR ANY MEDICAL INFORMATION TO BE RELEASED 50 YEARS AFTER A PATIENT’S DEATH. In my great-grandmother’s case, she’s been dead for 92 years. According to multiple sources on my blog, some of these good people with kind intentions have done the research and don’t know what to do with it because no one from the OMH has gotten in touch with them. Mr. Allen was in charge of this ridiculous plan. Does anyone wonder why I’m tired of banging my head against the wall? It’s because of unnecessary crap like this! Thank you to the volunteers who in good faith were trying to help these anonymous souls.
By adopting Federal Law which was passed in 2013, and including my suggestion as to how the law should read and what it should include, the NYS Office of Mental Health lost a golden opportunity to inform the public what mental illness is and where it lives. We are human, we are flawed, we are all wired differently. No one asks for Depression. No one wants to suffer with Anxiety. No one wants to cut themselves or have Trauma in their lives. No one asks to be born with Autism. No one wants to suffer with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. No woman wants to experience complications from Menopause. And for the millennial lawyer who thinks he knows everything about everything, half of all the women put in the Willard Asylum in 1880 were sent there because of menopause. It could have been YOUR great-great-grandmother! As you stated to me on the phone, “…the state could be sued.” When you stop and think that all I was asking for was WHO ARE THEY AND WHERE ARE THEY BURIED, and then to find out a few years later that a federal law had been passed to release their medical records, let me restate, TO RELEASE THEIR MEDICAL RECORDS, I thought for sure that the NYS Office of Mental Health would comply. I was wrong. I tried.
I cannot bang my head against the wall any longer. If someone else out there would like to pick up the torch and run with it, be my guest. I have written over 200 well researched blog posts over the past nine or ten years which you are welcome to use as long as you give me credit. I have written a book which I self-published with my own money to bring this issue to the public. (Thank you all for making me a hundred-aire!) I cannot do anymore and now that the good senator won’t be running for office again, I wouldn’t know who to speak with, and quite frankly, I just can’t deal with all the run arounds, the writing of letters, the waiting, and the denials coming from the OMH. They know what’s going on. Hundreds of years ago people with mental illness were thrown into filthy prisons, workhouses, and poor houses. Then in the 1800s New York State put them into asylums/state hospitals to try to help them, then in the 1970s they threw them out into the streets where they remain. The jails are FULL of people who are in need of help. They don’t care! Good Luck To You, My Friends! Sincerely, Lin Stuhler
The following passage was and is my proposal for a New York State law which probably will never be brought up again and will never pass. Rest In Peace Anonymous Souls!
“This bill is important and necessary in order to restore the dignity and personhood of the thousands of people who were incarcerated and died at former New York State Insane Asylums, (later renamed State Hospitals), Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions. When the bodies of the inmates were not claimed by family members, they were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves, or, their bodies and brains were given to medical colleges for research. These forgotten souls deserve to have their names remembered and available to the public by means of a searchable internet database. Some of these deceased patients were undoubtedly United States Veterans who served during the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, who suffered from PTSD and Shell Shock. Their graves deserve to be marked with the American Flag and honored like any other veteran’s grave.
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, Marcy, 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.
There is no good reason why these long deceased souls need to be punished and stigmatized in death for an illness or intellectual disability that they lived with in life. The great majority of these former state hospitals closed in favor of smaller group home settings or changed their names to Psychiatric Centers in the early 1970s. This in turn led to many patients being thrown onto the streets to live in cardboard boxes, or thrown into jail with no psychiatric services, just as they did 150 years ago. I do not understand why anyone would need to have their name withheld from any cemetery list until 50 years had passed after their death. This requirement in the bill only serves to feed the stigma.”