The sometimes disturbing film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was filmed at Oregon State Hospital. But in terms of being truly disconcerting, the fictional story is no match for one told by Rick Attig and Doug Bates about the current conditions of the decrepit asylum.
Attig and Bates, two editorial writers for The Oregonian, took a tour of the state’s major mental hospital. What they found was grim, gruesome and gut-wrenching.
“What they saw was a 122-year-old fright house dangerously overcrowded and understaffed,” said Robert Caldwell, the paper’s editorial page editor. “They saw criminally insane patients crammed four to a room in prisonlike wings likely to collapse in the next strong earthquake. They saw juvenile patients pulling their beds into hallways for fear of being sexually abused in their rooms. They saw medically stabilized patients being warehoused, 19th-century style, instead of being released to modern community-based hospitals.”
“Oregon’s Forgotten Hospital” became a 15-part series and a litany of grievances against the state’s treatment of the mentally ill.
Attig and Bates became a mouthpiece for the mistreated mental patients. They felt a true responsibility to protect the powerless prisoners at the outdated Oregon State Hospital. Without any objectors, these men and women were doomed to end up sitting on a shelf with the remains of others who died, urns lining the walls like paint cans.
“The Oregonian gave a voice to those who were too weak to object, especially the children who live with the danger of sexual abuse in the ghastly facility,” said the judges. “It forced the reader to reflect on their own attitudes and preconceptions of mental illness and the obligations society must grapple with while setting budgets. When reading the editorials, one is forced to ask the question, ‘What is a human being worth?’ ”
The images recounted by Attig and Bates were too riveting for Oregon’s policymakers to pass over. The writers forced state legislatures to reform the mental health facility and likely broke ground for the construction of a new mental health center in the future.
“It should be noted that these two authors accomplished this feat in a concise manner devoid of hyperbole and cliche,” the judges said. “This series showed a deft blending of organization, technical skills, persuasion and sound reasoning. It caused readers and lawmakers to act.”