Rockland state hospital
Barsa Pavillion building down the hill from Rockland Psychiatric Center still in use
Medical examination chair left behind in the children's ward hallway
When New York State Legislature passed a $50 million bond for the construction of new psychiatric hospitals, $11 million was set aside for a location outside of the five boroughs. Orangeburg in Rockland County was the chosen location for this new hospital despite the community's concern.
The neighborhood fear only worsened when patient escapes became a common occurrence and there were multiple reports of violent murders, stabbings and assaults committed by those whom had escaped. In 1995 a patient that had escaped and found his way to New York City stabbed a child with a hypodermic needle on the subway, In 1957 a patient escaped and murdered a woman that lived near the hospital. There are former residents who remember a patient escaping and murdering an entire family but I was unable to track down the reports for that specific incident.
One of the common rooms of an adult ward which seems to be the current home of a squatter
The small playground outside of the children's ward
Insulin shock therapy was introduced as a method of treatment in the hospital in 1937, and the introduction of electroshock therapy and prefrontal lobotomies soon followed. Images of two orderlies performing electroshock therapy can be found in the Digital Collections of the New York State Archives from as recently as 1957.
A form of punishment was seclusion therapy which involved leaving a patient deemed uncontrollable in a small room with nothing but a single bed, toilet, and access door for food. Some of the patients forced to spend days at a time in these seclusion rooms didn't suffer from any mental illness, but rather suffered physical or emotional abuse at the hands of family members, or sexual abuse since childhood.
A pink tricycle sits alone in the matching pink hallway of the children's ward
The first room to our left upon entering the children's ward where the chairs were already in place
The murals in the children's ward feature hand painted scenes by the Works Progress Administration's muralist Pedrotti Trent. Some of the murals include the 1720 old coach signifying the development of New York City, Henry Hudson's Half Moon ship, the "One Flag One Country" American flag, and various scenes from Washington Irving stories. At one point there was an interest in removing these murals and relocating them for preservation but the estimated $100,000 process to do so and the irreversible water damage led to the loss of any interest there once was.
Since the 1970s, Rockland State Hospital became a predominantly outpatient facility and is now known as Rockland Psychiatric Center. The center has less than 600 patients but remains one of the most important and successful psychiatric treatment facilities outside of New York City.
Scouting NY did a piece on Rockland State Hospital and the post received hundreds of comments from former patients and their family members, employees, and community members, telling about their experiences relating to the institution back when it operated as a state hospital. Below are some of the comments selected by Scout and reported in a follow-up article as well as additional comments that I selected.
"I grew up one block from the hospital grounds…Soon after we moved in, a patient who escaped from Rockland State murdered a woman who lived three blocks from us. The community came together to form a civic association that talked with hospital administrators about ways to keep the community safe."
"My mom was a patient at that hospital as well as many other institutes in NY. I remember visiting my mom for weekend visits. One visit she was in a white gown, her hair wild than ever and she was drooling out of her mouth, She looked like a zombie…She had also gone under the lobotomy and other sick things."
"I was institutionalized at Rockland County Mental Institution when I was 8 years old (1965-69)…I lived in a big dormitory with 50+ children. We were lined up at shower time and lined up to go to cafeteria. I remember spending most of the day in a “day room” – most of the other kids were severely disturbed / mentally retarded. If I didn’t do as told, they would put me in an isolation room (all day). Once they tied me to a bed with wet sheets layered with ice and opened the window in winter. There was an outside play area where one of the “minders” would hit kids with a wiffle ball bat. At meals I was forced to eat and finish everything on my plate even till I puked. It was HELL!"
"I was in Rockland State Hospital in the mid-1960s. I started off in the children’s ward and I made it up into the teens ward. I also was tied down in straitjackets in strait sheets when I did not obey their orders…When you’re heavily medicated, you don’t tend to really care about anything. I also remember a young lady dying. I remember everybody said “I hope she dies, I hope she dies,” and I was saying, “no let her live,” but she died. That always stuck with me."
"They did have some strange ways of dealing with us. When we started to misbehave, they would tie us down with icy cold wet sheets. I guess that was their way of cooling us down. The wet sheet thing I found more humiliating than barbaric. The only physical pain I received from it was when the sheets started to dry, I started to itch. Of course, there were the straitjacket and the itchy room but that was it."
Blaisdell, Russell E. "The Rockland State hospital." The Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 1, 1931, pp. 193-195.
Cornachio, Donna. "Changes in Mental Care." The New York Times, 3 Jan. 1999,
Directory of OMH Facilities. "Rockland Psychiatric Center." New York State Office of Mental Health, 10 Mar. 2015, www.omh.ny.gov/omhweb/facilities/rppc/.
Ellis, Will. "Inside Rockland Psychiatric Center." AbandonedNYC, 24 Aug. 2015, abandonednyc.com/2015/08/24/striking-out-at-rockland-psychiatric-center/.
Malm, Sara. "Psychiatric hospital where time stood still." Daily Mail Online, 30 Nov. 2015,
"Rockland Psychiatric Center." NYU School of Medicine, med.nyu.edu/psych/affiliates/rockland-psychiatric-center.
Rockland State Hospital, Shock Therapy, 1957. New York State Archives, Digital Collections.
Scout. "Memories From An Insane Asylum: Stories From Rockland County Psychiatric Center." Scouting NY, 15 Apr. 2013, www.scoutingny.com/memories-from-an-insane-asylum-stories-from-rockland-county-psychiatric/.
12/29/2020 07:19:44 pm
Rockland psychiatric hospital. All the comments sounds flow evenly as if written by the same writer. All the comments I had read does not at all resemble individual patients experience. For example, the wet sheet-pack from ice buckets had not been approved from the head Doctor of the building, rather it was standard licensed by the staff workers in charge of each ward discretion during periods when the building head Doctor was not working any time managed. It was again solely the staff prerogative. The hash discipline of wet sheet- pack was never extreme beyond a set shift given of who was on charge. There were three shifts morning, afternoon, and night.
1/13/2021 04:14:21 am
I was at Rockland Hospital in the 70 s and that felt like been in jail you didn’t have freedom to do whatever you want . All the boys used to line up to shower together . No privacy for the toilet you had shit with doors opened and people coming in and out it was embarecing . Rooms were with like 6 beds each no privacy . You had to do what you was told . A lot of sexual things happened when I was there . There was a nurse that was always picking on me and one time she got me so mad that I slap her face real hard . They put me on medication and put me in a room . I was there cause I was Gay and a rebel teen most people goes through those stage when you are a teen but I didn’t have any Mental problems they thaugh I did . I had sex with a few boys well it was a boring life and Iam glad I came out my mother took me out thank God .
9/3/2022 06:41:26 pm
I have been searching for what happened to a family member that was at Rockland State Hospital from around 1942 till her death in 1991. We have been denied any information about her death certificate and where here remains are at present as the family wasn’t not told when she passed. If anyone can help guide us in finding any information about what happened to patients upon their death, we would be deeply grateful.
Lisa West Alpert
9/24/2022 06:55:59 pm
Julie - same. We're searching for a family member who was there from the 1940s until her death in the 1960s. We can't locate a death certificate, and we're not entirely sure what year she died. We also don't have documentation of her admittance to Rockland State. I see you posted your comment just a few weeks ago. Please reach out if you have more information by posting here. Thanks.
11/18/2022 04:18:10 pm
Appreciate the time you took to write this
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All photos taken by Sami Fego unless stated otherwise