The Breakthrough

September 11, 2017
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In the 1960s, New York began to clear out its scandal-ridden psychiatric hospitals. In their place, a new system emerged. Thousands of mentally ill New Yorkers moved into “adult homes,” large apartment complexes concentrated mostly in New York City and its surrounding suburbs. The homes were meant to provide a safer, more humane alternative to the hospitals; they were closer to where many of the patients lived, and promised modest psychiatric care and other services.

But decades later, that grand vision had devolved into something that looked more like a nightmare.

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In 2001, New York Times metro reporter Cliff Levy spent a year investigating conditions of the homes. He found that more than 1,000 people died in a six-year period. Some threw themselves off of rooftops. Others succumbed to extreme heat, only to be found days later, decomposing in fetid rooms. He found that the homes were often staffed by unqualified workers paid a pittance to look after a population in desperate need.

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Image: Hilary Swift for Propublica

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