The Wyoming State Hospital is an integral component of our community. It has served the mental health needs of the people of Wyoming since it first opened its doors in 1887, through continually changing knowledge and practices on the treatment of mental health.
For the City of Evanston, the WSH’s role goes far beyond that.
Its campus and buildings are almost iconic in terms of Evanston history. With its oldest building constructed in 1908, no one still living can remember a time they weren’t there. Though the future of those century-old buildings is murky, the role the facility has played in Evanston’s past and continues to play in our present is not. As one of Evanston’s and Uinta County’s largest employers, it is very much part of the lifeblood of our community.
As we at the Herald have in recent months taken on an investigation into assaults by combative patients at the facility, the importance of WSH has been at the forefront of our minds.
Although our series on assaults only recently wrapped up, as is evident by the dates of assaults this story has been years in the making. Our reporter, Kayne Pyatt, was able to devote the time and energy necessary to give this story the attention it warranted over the past several months, and what has transpired since the time the first story in the series ran several weeks ago has far exceeded our expectations.
More than 30 current and former employees of the Wyoming State Hospital have reached out to us to share their stories, and these contacts continue to this day. We do not have the ability to tell each one of their stories, but they invariably include details that have become very familiar to us as our investigation has progressed.
Whenever we undertake a series such as this one, we ask ourselves what our purpose is in writing it. Are we simply trying to point out a problem or are we hoping to accomplish something more?
The answer is always that we’re hoping not only to educate and illuminate but to bring about positive change in this community of which we ourselves are a part.
What has become clear through our research is that assaults in the realm of healthcare, and in mental health in particular, have become increasingly problematic nationwide and are not unique to the WSH. We recognize the difficulty in treating patients with sometimes severe mental health illnesses with dignity and respect, while also trying to maintain safety for staff and other patients.
Nobody is advocating for a return to a bygone era of treating psychiatric patients as test subjects for barbaric practices simply to make such patients easier to manage.
However, especially given the importance of the entire facility to Evanston, Uinta County, and the entire state, we believe it’s crucial that the publication of our investigative series be not an end point, but a beginning.
It is unfortunately all too common for investigative reports into serious and complex subjects to result in absolutely nothing being done. Conflicts and problems will be exposed, a meaningful public discussion will begin, but without leadership and a sincere desire to confront the problem head on, days turn to weeks, weeks to months and months to years, and the problem continues, largely unchanged. Eventually, the problem becomes simply an accepted truth, one for which nothing can be done.
Although undoubtedly difficult, we do not believe this problem is an intractable one with no solution and a risk that employees, and other patients, must simply accept as unavoidable.
It is our fervent hope that the information and stories we have shared, thanks to the courage of those willing to step forward, will provide the impetus for difficult conversations and honest discussions to explore possible solutions, including staff and administration at the WSH itself, the Wyoming Department of Health and members of the Wyoming Legislature and executive branch, along with the attorney general and county attorney.
We have to believe there are solutions out there when a group of committed, concerned and thoughtful people, such as those we’ve spoken with throughout our work on this series, join forces for a common purpose.
The Wyoming State Hospital is simply too important to our community to accept anything less.