The monthly Heritage Partner Spotlight focuses on our Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area (HCCHA) partners and how they have supported heritage in Dorchester County with a project funded by either a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grant or a HCCHA mini-grant.
This month’s spotlight shines on the Eastern Shore Hospital Center Auxiliary, which has been working to preserve a historic cemetery at the hospital’s original site in Cambridge and bring dignity, respect, recognition and peace to the long-forgotten patients who were buried there without name or ritual.
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‘Turning Numbers into Names’

The Eastern Shore Hospital Auxiliary has been dedicated to serving the patients of the Eastern Shore Hospital Center (ESHC) since it was first chartered in 1952. However, their commitment goes much deeper – to include former patients who have long been forgotten, who have been known only as numbers, some for more than 100 years.

The Auxiliary demonstrated that profound commitment with their “Turning Numbers into Names” project, which received funding from the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area in 2019. The Auxiliary acquired a granite and bronze memorial listing the names of 194 patients who were buried without name and ritual at the original site of the hospital. They paid tribute to them in a moving, dedication ceremony in December 2019 at the old ESHC Cemetery on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay.

“This project humanizes the 194 individuals/patients, the majority of whom were entirely from the Eastern Shore,” said Forrest A. Daniels, chief executive officer of the Eastern Shore Hospital Center. “They were family members and friends of those who, to this day, reside in Dorchester County and beyond.”

100 year history

The Eastern Shore Hospital Center is a regional, acute-care fully-accredited psychiatric facility under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Department of Health. The hospital was originally located on the grounds of the current Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay.

In 1912, the General Assembly of Maryland created the hospital to provide care for the mentally ill of the Eastern Shore counties. The first patients, 203 in fact, were received in May of that year from Springfield, Spring Grove State Hospitals and Cherry Hill Asylum. This transfer of patients was quite an operation as they were brought by a steamer with railings. Picnic lunches were packed, music and dancing were provided, and both patients and personnel enjoyed the trip down the Chesapeake Bay and up the Choptank River to the banks of the new hospital.

Over the many years of its original existence, additional buildings were constructed to have the hospital be self-sufficient with livestock houses, food storage and processing, laundry, dining and equipment storage. Additional patient buildings also were added. Buildings were constructed over the years to manage psychiatrically mentally ill patients as well as those in the medical/surgical and geriatric populations.

Grant-funded projects

“We received a $4,000 matching mini-grant to purchase a granite and bronze memorial listing the names of 194 of our unremembered patients who passed away at our facility during 1915 and 1963. These patients were never recognized until now. They were only numbers. With the grant, we were able to hold an onsite dedication ceremony unveiling a lovely forever memorial on December 9, 2019. We read aloud each patient’s name – all were named, recognized and remembered.” – Judith Slaughter, director of ESHS Volunteer Services

The project aligns with the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area’s commitment to practicing stewardship by working to identify and advocate for the preservation of threatened and vanishing places, practices and stories. The Heritage Area’s Strategic Plan specifically addresses the need to identify and inventory threatened cemeteries and explore ways to preserve endangered historical assets.

Community outreach

The plans for the construction of the new hospital at the Woods Road location started in June 1996 with excavation beginning in 1998, and the patients moved in May 2001.

The new ESHC was built with a Treatment Mall component, unlike any other facility in the State of Maryland. This treatment concept offers patients group activities in relation to their mental illness. Efforts have expanded over the past year and a half by introducing patients to community events by networking within the community seeking individuals, business and volunteer organizations to work with them. It is the aspirations of the leadership and clinical staff that these community visits will help with diminishing the stigma related to mental illness, said Judith Slaughter, director of ESHS Volunteer Services.

“The community at large has been extremely supportive,” Slaughter said. “In keeping with our mission of community and socialization, new to our campus in 2013 was a full-service greenhouse introducing Horticultural Therapy to our patients. In 2015, we added an outdoor walking area highlighted by a Patient Serenity Garden and Labyrinth. By providing this quiet place where the simple act of walking offers a proactive way to ‘do’ something towards getting better, coupled with the multi-sensorial effects of plants and flowers, we have prepared an inviting way of getting exercise outdoors in nature.”

Auxiliary support

The Eastern Shore Hospital Center Auxiliary was first chartered in 1952, and its mission today is to provide benefits to the patients and therapeutic programs at the hospital. It is the oldest such organization serving a Department of Health facility within the State of Maryland. The Auxiliary is a totally volunteer organization with about 30 members.

Auxiliary members staff the A. May Thompson gift shop housed in the Woods Road facility, which offers new accessories and clothing, as well as nearly-new men’s women’s and children’s clothing and housewares. The shop is open to the community from 10 a.m-2 p.m. daily. The shop is also an integral part of the Treatment Mall program. Patients on every unit of the Mall have a shopping day, and the Auxiliary provides the indigent patients with mall cards each month to purchase clothing and or toiletry items from the shop or food items from the café.

The Auxiliary, working in tandem with the Eastern Shore Hospital Center Volunteer Services Department, also provides clothing and necessities, as well as gifts at Christmas time. Every patient who is discharged receives a rolling duffle filled with clothing, etc., and a “Carrie” Bag – named after one of the social workers, Carrie Harper, who recently passed away.

“This bag and its contents provide patients who are preparing to live more independently in the community with items that we all take for granted – underwear, socks, hygiene products, etc.” Slaughter said. “Having these items available is a major undertaking, again supported by the Auxiliary and other local community members.”

The Auxiliary also provides program enhancements, such as guest instructional artists, refreshments for community pool and ride outings, special music concerts and sing-a-longs, open houses and dinners for patients and their family and friends, pizza parties, holiday programs, and more.

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