In 1951 at Essondale, there were about 200 patients with tuberculosis. TB was a problem for the hospital and had been for a while. Chest X-rays were given to patients as they were admitted and this meant earlier diagnosis and treatment. However, the problem persisted.
Plans for a "tubercular-mental" hospital began in the hopes of stemming the spread of the disease.
The American Psychiatric Association was critical of Essondale's response to the rise in TB and said so in a 1951 report.
"Patients suffering from tuberculosis are being cared for under great difficulties. Overcrowding is aggravating a situation, which was already bad. Patients who do not have tuberculosis are being cared for in the same ward with those who are actively infected on both male and female services. These wards are not adequately equipped for the purpose. Nursing facilities are insufficient and the arrangement of the wards makes isolation from the non-infected difficult."
To combat this problem, the North Lawn building opened on May 4, 1955. It had a capacity of 230 beds and was opened primarily for the treatment of those with TB. Eleven years later, the disease had been reduced to the point where the ward now had 26 beds.
In the mid 1950s, a new type of therapy was introduced at Essondale - Recreation Therapy. The Recreation Therapy Department organized activities such as swimming, dancing, board games, bowling and tennis for the patients. Every week, the Leader newsletter would list all the upcoming activities.
“The schedule of activities in the Leader gave patients something to look forward to. To have anything to look forward to other than their next meal was marvelous.”
Don Cunnings Recreation Therapist, 1953-57
Many of these activities were held at Pennington Hall, named after Dr. R.A. Pennington. Penn Hall had a cafe, theatre and bowling alley. Events such as concerts and shows were held there and it continued to be the social hub of the settlement for many years.
Some of the patients were too ill to take part in most of the activities but most managed to attend if it involved dancing or music. Essondale managed to attract big names in music. I saw a photo of the Ink Spots when they performed at Penn Hall.
“We would drive downtown to the Cave Supper Club and go backstage after the show to ask the performers if they would come do a show at Essondale. I’d say, ‘We have 4,000 patients out there who would really benefit from some live music. Will you please come?’ And every once in a while they did! They would come mid-week and do an afternoon show at Pennington Hall. It was pretty exciting.”
Thanks goes to the PDF, Riverview, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.
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