State Hospital South in Blackfoot has come a long way since it was established in July 1886 as the Idaho Insane Asylum with 36 “inmates” (26 men and 10 women) who were transferred from an asylum in Oregon.
It’s been 130 years since the hospital first opened its doors and offered a place to live and work for nearly 29,000 patients with mental health issues over the years. The hospital will celebrate all of those years of service from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, at the State Hospital South Cemetery on Cromwell Lane in Blackfoot, Idaho. The celebration will include a dedication of the final set of headstones to be installed in the cemetery, as well as presentations from students who are related to hospital staff. They will share stories about some of the patients who lived at the hospital between 1891 and the early 1980s and who are buried in the cemetery.
“I am thrilled that we can include the students in our celebration, and that they have had the chance to learn about mental illness,” said hospital administrator Tracey Sessions. “This hospital has been a part of Idaho and the Blackfoot community for 130 years in exactly the same location, which is difficult to fathom in some ways. Many of our employees live in Blackfoot. It is wonderful that we are able to help family and friends gain a greater understanding of mental illness and help to break down the stigma. We are very fortunate to be in the community of Blackfoot, which has been welcoming to and supportive of our patients.”
The headstone project started with just 15 headstones for more than 1,000 graves. It has taken five years of fundraising and coordination with volunteers, and thanks to generous donations from the community, staff, and volunteers including Eagle Scouts, 1,004 headstones have been placed on every grave.
“The headstones memorialize Blackfoot’s pioneers of mental illness,” said Sessions, who spearheaded the campaign to buy and place the headstones. “It has been extremely important to me that we know the names and the stories, if possible, of the residents of State Hospital South who are buried in the cemetery.”
State Hospital South today provides psychiatric inpatient treatment and skilled nursing care for Idaho’s adult and adolescent residents with the most serious and persistent mental illnesses. The hospital works in partnership with families and communities to enable clients to return to community living. The hospital has 90 psychiatric adult beds, 29 skilled nursing beds, and 16 beds for adolescents. It also maintains a statewide program to restore competency of criminal justice patients.
The facility is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, and is certified by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. See a historical timeline about the hospital, or learn more at the Department of Health and Welfare’s website.