Controversial Mental Health Facility in MN Sees Changing Narrative

Controversial Mental Health Facility in MN Sees Changing Narrative Click to Enlarge

ANOKA, Minn. - It's been 20 years since the Anoka State Hospital closed its doors. It was replaced by a newer facility for those dealing with mental illness in the Twin Cities' north-metro area. But the old campus still attracts media hype, mostly in the form of sensationalism due to rumors of haunted buildings.

Audra Hilse of the Anoka County Historical Society says while there was a time when hospital staff carried out treatment no longer considered humane, some of the attention it receives isn't accurate. She cites the underground tunnels that connected the buildings.

"They weren't used as torture chambers or whatever it might be that people have heard," says Hilse.

Hilse's museum recently provided an oral history of the campus, where former staff and patients provided a more authoritative perspective of the facility.

That history acknowledges the period from the late 1920s to early 1950s, when there were questionable forms of treatment such as overuse of electroshock therapy. But project officials say it also was a leader in providing a more home-like residential feel that was connected to a community, and not built in a remote location.

Doctor Paul Goering - vice president for mental-health and addiction services at Allina Health - interned at Anoka in the 1980s, and his father was a patient there in the 1970s. He says the closeness the campus had with the city played a role in improving his mental well-being.

"He felt that he was in a community where he was seen, where his pain was appreciated, where he was offered hope," says Goering.

The old hospital campus is now used for certain county operations. It also houses nonprofits.

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