Central State Psychiatric Hospital Exposé - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean

Ward referenced in Frank Sutherland's article, "Personal Experience: Central State Conditions Found Poor."

Media History

The reporting was intended for these media types: Newspaper

"Mental Health Fund Needed" - Frank Sutherland Series - Nashville Tennessean


Editorial: "Mental Health Deserves Top Assembly Priority" - Sutherland series - Nashville Tennessean


Editorial: "State's Mentally Ill Deserve Better Care" - Sutherland series - Nashville Tennessean


Followup: "Central State Needs Action Right Now" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Followup: "Tragle Raps Hospital Critics" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Followup: "Change in Central State Role, Scope Advised" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Followup: "Report Urges Central State Improvements" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Followup: "Central State Woes Reflected at East State Hospital" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


IX-"State Mental Hospitals 'Could Lose Millions'" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


VIII-"Officials Agree Central State Needs Reform" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


VII-"State Help Dire Need at Hospital" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


VII-"Hospital Complex Old, Battered, But In Use" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


VI-"'Ward Meeting' Breaks Silence" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


V-"Skimpy, Unprofessional Patient File Reveals Inadequate Treatment" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean

Thursday, January 24, 1974

The story of my personality as viewed by "professionals" at Central State Psychiatric Hospital is contained in a thin brown cardboard folder - number 47 441 - in the hospital's files.  Because I posed as a patient named "Ernest Franklin" with suicidal tendencies during my month's stay at the hospital, this file does not paint a true picture of my personality.But more importantly, because this file is an unprofessional patchwork of sketchy, skimpy jargon, I wonder and worry about the files of other patients there.  After my release from Central State, I submitted the contents of this file, compiled by unlicensed doctors and undertrained aides, to three licensed psychisitrists (sic) practicing in Nashville.   Because the professionals sometimes deal either with Central State, its patients, former patients, or with doctors who work there, they insisted on anonymity. 

IV-"Christmas Means Joyless Tension in Locked Ward" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


There was little joy to the world of Central State Psychiatric Hospital Christmas Day.  Tempers got shorter and the patients stopped talking with each other; most of us knew we would not be going home for Christmas. My Christmases have always been joyful celebrations with family and friends.  I never hope to know another time of sadness like Dec. 24-25, 1973.  I posed as a patient at Central State for 31 days, including Christmas, and I watched with interest the real patients around me.  As the day of "joy" approached, I watched their spirits diminish.  This was a time when most of my fellow patients felt their absolute isolation from the real world. About 80% of the patients in my building could not go home for Christmas. Of those who stayed, only a handful had visitors.  This angered me.  "Where in hell are their relatives?" I asked myself. Some members of the staff made attempts to brighten the holidays, but the rejoicing never occured with any intensity.

III-"Aides, Many Untrained, Run Central State" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Aides, who are required to have only an eighth grade education - but who are given the high-flown title "psychiatric technician" - are the people who really run Central State Psychiatric Hospital.  There are nurses - both registered and practical - at the hospital, there are social workers with degrees.There are 14 doctors paid by the state - although eight of them have not passed Tennessee licensing examinations.  But the aides, in large measure, control the lives and destinies of the 1,400 patients at Central State. This was obvious during the 31 days I posed as a patient at the hospital to report on conditions and treatment there.  WhenI confronted Central State Supt. William H. Tragle with my true identity last week, I told him what I had found. I told him about the un-sanitary conditions, the depressing environment, and that I knew the hospital was unaccredited and many of its doctors unlicensed.  I also told him about my conclusion that the aides, in effect, run the hospital. "I agree that the aides really run the hospital," Tragle said, but he added that he believes the patients control the aides.  He said aides, rather than "rock the boat," sometimes give in to the patients or make decisions that are not always in the best interests of patients.  But I do not necessarily agree that patients have that much influence over the aides, however, I did see different ways the aides control what happens at that hospital.

II-"Reporter Finds Hospital Stay "Demoralizing" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


It is impossible for a person who is sane to feel the same way about entering a psychiatric hospital as a person who is mentally ill. But the feelings of apprehension and loneliness uncertainty and even fear which I had in Central State Psychiatric Hospital cannot be escaped by the sane or mentally ill. Any human being must feel those emotions. As I entered the hospital Dec. 14, I had to wonder, does the mentally ill inmate really know what is happening around him? If he does, he realizes that the hospital is unaccredited and that more than half of its doctors are unlicensed in tennessee.   While I had the advantage of knowing this before I entered the hospital, all of us living there knew the physical facilities and the general atmosphere of the hospital are demoralizing and depressing.   I entered the hospital mentally healthy with a task of observing what happens there, but the buildings, the system and the people worked on my mind, constantly pulling me down.  It was an emotional drain just to exist there. I found that not only was I working to report what goes on there. I was working to survive.  

I-"Personal Experience: Central State Conditions Found Poor" - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean


Central State Psychiatric Hospital is a warehouse for the storage of people - an unaccredited and unclean hospital with more than half its doctors unlicensed to practice in Tennessee. I know. I just spent 31 days there. From Dec. 14 until last Sunday, I posed as a patient at Central State to observe conditions and treatment firsthand.  No member of the staff was aware of the role I was playing. During my month's stay, these conditions were glaring and obvious:  The hospital is unaccredited. There are a number of reasons, including substandard facilities, lack of equipment and supplies, failure to meet fire and health standards and unlicensed physicians in key clinical and administrative positions Eight of the 14 full-time physicians at Central State do not have licenses to practice in Tennessee. Most of them are foreign born doctors who are unable to pass the state examinations. Unsanitary conditions prevailed not only in my building but in other buildings I visited on the hospital grounds.  Toilets went for weeks without cleaning. We patients who were there were rarely encouraged to practice personal hygeine.  Walls and halls reeked with dried urine and vomit. Patients may get no comprehensive medical examinations upon admittance.  Officials there say they do not have the staff and time for such a complete examination immediately.  I recieved only a chest X-ray and blood and urine tests.  Patients may recieve no psychiatric examination upon admittane.  A staff member told me that if I wanted to see a psychiatrist I "should go on the outside and pay $59 an hour." I never had a psychiatric examination the entire month I was at central state.   On three occasions during my month's stay I met for about 10 minutes with a "staffing team," headed by an unliscenced psychiatrist, nurses, aides, social workers and sometimes an occupational or recreational therapist and a chaplin.