Eastern State Hospital: 200 years of history in Lexington

Originally published by WEKU.

To say medical care has changed dramatically in Kentucky and everywhere else in 200 years could be considered a major understatement. If you zero in on psychiatric treatment, it becomes even more profound.

On May 1, 1824, Eastern State Hospital opened its doors along Lexington’s Newtown Pike. At the time it was considered the second state psychiatric hospital in the U.S. A 200th anniversary is being celebrated. At Friday’s event, Kelly Gunning of NAMI told how her son pleaded for her in 2002 to not leave him at a facility she said resembled something out of a Hitchcock movie.

“From that day forward I vowed and declared we would make a better hospital that no family member, no patient would be afraid to go in the door. Can I get an Amen?” asked Gunning.

The state opened a modern 300,000 square foot facility on UK’s Coldstream Research Campus in 2013. Never ever anticipating being a patient, well known local attorney Bruce Simpson found himself there following a suicide attempt in early 2023. He said during a three-day period, his former view of Eastern State eroded, not hearing one uncivil or unkind remark from caregivers.

“On the contrary everything I heard was compassionate, patient, and professional. And a genuine interest in that person, at that moment, when they were talking,” said Simpson.

UK HealthCare Acting Chief Operations Officer Colleen Swartz said there was a time when the old Eastern State had 2000 patients. That number today, with advances in medicines and therapy, stands at between 140 and 150 on any given day.

Marc Woods is chief nursing officer at Eastern State. While medical technology is a big part of care today, Woods said that’s not the focus at this hospital.

“It’s not lasers and shiny instruments and things you would see in medical settings or whatever. Rather, it’s approaches, it’s people, it’s treatment modalities…it’s conceptual,” said Woods.

The hospital, with 195 acute care beds serves a 50-county region of the state.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.