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osawatomie state hospital

Osawatomie State Hospital

Location Class:
Built: 1920s | Abandoned: 2000s
Status: AbandonedEndangeredPrivate Property
Photojournalist: Emily Cowan

Osawatomie State Hospital

To Read A Fully Detailed History, Former Patient/Staff Stories, and See 50+ Exclusive High-Quality Pictures Click Here to Order Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland’

Talks of the first state-run “insane asylum” in Kansas began around 1861-62, and a committee was formed to determine its location. On February 28, 1863, Bill No. 9 was passed to establish the State Insane Asylum in Osawatomie. Title deeds to the land were received through donation about a year later, and an appropriation of $2,500 was requested for building construction. However, objections were raised to this amount, leading to renegotiations. In 1866, $500 was allocated to build a small square frame building known as “The Lodge” on the Kansas Insane Asylum grounds. This building had eight rooms and could house twelve patients for the entire state. On November 1, 1866, the asylum opened with Dr. Charles O. Gause as the first Superintendent and his wife, Matron Mrs. Levisa Gause, ready to serve their community.

As the initial farmhouse became overcrowded, the need for a larger facility became evident. In 1868, funds were allocated by the Kansas legislature to construct two wings. These wings, designed by State Architect J.G. Haskell in the Kirkbride-Plan style, saw their cornerstone laying ceremony for the East Wing on June 2, 1868. The Lodge building was repurposed for smallpox patients. Continued construction addressed pending applications and overcrowding. In 1875, the Central Building, known as “Old Main,” was completed, featuring forty rooms and a chapel for six hundred people.

In the 1880s, patient numbers surged, causing overcrowding. An allocation of $95,000 addressed this, leading to the Knapp Building’s completion in 1892 for long-term male patients. In 1895, the Adair Building accommodated “incurable” female patients. In 1901, the ‘Infirmary Building’ was constructed for infectious cases.

Dr. Francis Carmichael succeeded Uhls taking over the position in 1913, another great advocate for the mentally ill. But the new leader just a few years after being hired was blamed for the sanitary conditions, mistreatment and abuse scandals that flooded the news again. One article printed by the Paola Spirit in 1916 details a report by the Board of Health findings after their investigation.

The State Board of Control acknowledged the report’s findings but absolved Dr. Carmichael of any wrongdoing, affirming his diligence in performing his duties. They attributed blame to state officials who had been reluctant to allocate sufficient funds for necessary improvements. In a previous biennial report, the Board had requested $50,000 for repairs and a new receiving hospital, but they were only granted $10,000 annually for two years, with half of that amount vetoed by Governor Capper. This chronic funding shortfall had persisted for decades, making it challenging to construct new facilities, maintain existing ones, and adequately compensate staff. Consequently, they often had to hire underqualified personnel, exacerbating the challenge of caring for mentally ill patients. Despite numerous efforts to address these issues through staff recruitment and increased funding, limitations on state resources frequently hindered progress.

In 1971, the East and West wings of ‘Old Main’ were demolished, leaving only the central building for administration. These massive two-story wards could each hold around 700 patients and stretched about 300 feet long. By 1987, the Central Building was abandoned, replaced by a new administration building. Initially, state officials had planned to tear down Old Main in 1986 for a new administration building, but a lack of funds prevented this. Sen. Doug Walker, an Osawatomie resident, advocated for renovating the Central Building instead, which proved to be a more cost-effective option. A 5-1 vote led to the northern portion’s demolition and the southern portion’s mothballing, with asbestos removal, ensuring structural integrity for another decade. However, the future of the building remained uncertain.

Following a survey revealing staffing issues, the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services had a 90-day ultimatum to hire more staff to meet government guidelines or lose funding. In response, they advertised for registered nurses and doctors, successfully hiring 32 nurses and two new doctors to maintain Medicare and Medicaid funding. Admissions were reduced by 40 percent to address overcrowding, and stricter admission criteria were implemented, requiring court orders to reduce law enforcement-related admissions.

In the 1980s, discussions arose about bringing law enforcement closer to Osawatomie State Hospital. Initially, there were debates about the cost of constructing a new correctional facility, leading to an alternative proposal. Repurposing buildings from state hospitals was seen as a cost-saving measure. The Carmichael Building was selected for conversion into a minimum-medium security prison. This initiative aimed to provide inmates with a less structured living arrangement as they prepared for reintegration into society.

A fifteen-man work crew undertook a $990,300 renovation of the Carmichael Building, and it opened in 1987, accommodating around eighty prisoners. Over time, it was equipped with a barbershop, a fitness center with a basketball court, and featured various art pieces on its walls. This unit was operational until around 2007 when it ceased operations, and the building is currently used solely for storing the state hospital’s belongings.

In the 21st century, the shift towards outpatient services and community mental health centers led to a decline in populations at state hospitals nationwide. Legislatures began reducing bed capacity, with Osawatomie State Hospital (OSH) aiming to close 60 adult beds and a children’s ward by 1993. This was part of Kansas’ six-year mental health reform plan, targeting the closure of 270 beds across Osawatomie, Topeka, and Larned State Hospitals.

With the reduced need for large facilities, many buildings were abandoned. The Old Main Building, which had narrowly avoided demolition for almost two decades, was finally razed in October 2003. Several artifacts, including the cornerstone, now rest in a memorial park on OSH grounds. Lights from the turrets and a stained-glass window found a home in a display case within the new administration building, while dozens of others were donated to local museums in Osawatomie and Paola.

In the mid-2010s, the state faced pressure to cut costs at its state hospitals, leading to significant reductions in capacities, from over a thousand patients to 200 or less. These quick cutbacks didn’t solve overcrowding issues, and Osawatomie risked losing its Medicare and Medicaid funding unless it addressed the problems. The hospital underwent federally mandated renovations, spending $2.9 million to update the Adair Acute Care Unit.

To tackle overcrowding, new regulations were introduced, including an end to voluntary committed patients. An “intensive triage system” was implemented for involuntarily admitted patients, prioritizing severity and consultation with OSH staff. Communities received little notice about these changes, straining relations between OSH staff and local personnel. Police officers and hospitals were turned away, leading to waitlists and overcrowded emergency rooms.

As the hospital was about to undergo a federal inspection to maintain funding, a violent incident involving a patient and staff member occurred. An investigation revealed systemic issues in care provision and safety checks, putting all patients at risk. Consequently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified the hospital in December 2015, revoking funding for new patients. Immediate changes were implemented, including personal alarm buttons for staff, 15-minute patient checks, 24/7 security officers, on-call medical doctors, and further improvements to the Adair Acute Care Unit.

Following the decertification, Kansas sought to recertify just the Adair Acute Care Unit at Osawatomie State Hospital, and after two years and significant investments, they regained certification and funding in December 2017. Since then, numerous changes have been implemented, documented on the government website.

Dr. Kristen Feeback, appointed as Superintendent in September 2019, has been focused on expanding two programs at the hospital. The first is the Animal Program, which includes twelve chickens that interact with patients, producing eggs and honoring the hospital’s self-sustaining history. Three goats and two dogs also contribute to the therapeutic aspect of the program. The second program is the Supportive Employment Program, which teaches responsibility and accountability to patients who want to work during their stay. Patients now have opportunities both on and off-campus, working at various locations, including the museum, clothing closet, and food pantry. Dr. Feeback’s current focus for 2021 is on GED programs, although the George York School building, ideal for these classes and built in 1921 on the campus, faces demolition. Superintendent Feeback is actively advocating against its demolition and has even sought bids for a new roof to preserve the historic structure.

An ongoing project at Osawatomie State Hospital involves the restoration of the Sunken Gardens and the reopening of the Asylum Bridge for use as a bike trail. In June 2020, the Sunken Gardens, living up to their name, were buried under thick brush. During a cleanup and landscaping workday involving OSH staff, hidden stone structures were discovered beneath the foliage. These stone paths and features led to the revelation of a stone dating back to 1934, the year patients constructed the Sunken Gardens. More paths are gradually being uncovered across the grounds, and plans are in place to restore the reflection pool. Additionally, there are plans to complete the renovation of the Adair B2 Unit, which has been unused for some time. Following this, East and West Biddle will undergo renovation and become eligible for certification once finished.

Osawatomie State Hospital

To Read A Fully Detailed History, Former Patient/Staff Stories, and See 50+ Exclusive High-Quality Pictures Click Here to Order Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland’

(The pictures included below are not indicative of the pictures included in the book above, pictures of all the awesome things included at this property can be seen exclusively in my book!)


Emily Cowan

Osawatomie State Hospital

Emily is a three-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" - "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World" and "Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland. With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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Emily Cowan

Emily is a three-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" - "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World" and "Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland. With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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Billeta Joy Freeman
Billeta Joy Freeman
4 months ago

My grandmother lived there from 1934 to 1953 would she be in this book? I never knew her, and I am interested in her life at the State Hospital!

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