History of Augusta Mental Health Institute

The history of the Augusta Mental Health Institute is divided into six distinct eras.

  • The first era is the Early History 1840 to 1946. In 1834 the Maine Legislature passed a resolve to establish the Maine Insane Hospital and appropriated $20,000 for this purpose. Matching funds were donated by private indivduals. As a result, this the doors to the hospital, built of Hallowell granite, opened in October of 1840.

    The hospital was built across the river from the Capitol building. The reason for this was so that the Governor and the Legislature would never forget the hospital.
  • The second era, in 1946 to 1962, is called the Sleeper Era. The reason for this is that is 1946 Dr. Sleeper became the eighth superintendent. 
    During Dr. Sleeper's tenure the following changes were implemented:
    1. Nursing services were reorganized under unitary control.
    2. Psychology department was increased from one psychologist to three by additions of two interns.
    3. First full time pharmacist was hired.
    4. A dentist was added to the staff.
    5. Number of occupational aides was increased from one to eight.
    6. A library, consisting of one room, with 2800 books and one librarian.
    Also in this era, 1948-49 the hospital experienced extensive over-crowding, by 24.8%. In 1950 over-crowding became the number one problem of the hospital. Sixteen hundred patients were crowded into spaces intended for 1,270. The situation continued to worsen, and by 1950 the over-crowding had increased to 44.1% over the intended number,.so that in 1961 the first intensive effort to move patients into the community was undertaken. Dr. Sleeper retired in 1961 and so ended the Sleeper era.
  • The third era, with the retiring of Dr. Sleeper, began the Patterson years. Dr. Patterson (1962-1971) insisted that the patients who left be discharged rather than go out on leave. This move raised the admissions. However, during the Patterson era the population began to drop because of use of new medications.

In 1971 the De-institutionalization Era began under the supervision of Roy Ettlinger. Over a five-year period the population dropped from 1500 to 350. Also in this time period patients rights emerged, and patients advocates were appointed.

From 1976 to present, the Post De-institutionalization era gave way to a system of ongoing evaluation of the patient toward placement in the community. This coupled again with advances in medication has reduced the Augusta Mental Health Institute's population to a point where now only those individuals with the most severe mental illness are treated.

With the sixth era, beginning in 2004, the State of Maine has built a 92-bed civil and forensic psychiatric treatment facility to replace the existing 161 year old state hospital, the Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI). The new facility is scheduled to open in April 2004.

The new facility, Riverview Psychiatric Center, will offer a state-of-the-art treatment environment that supports healing, respect, and safety. Research and common sense clearly speak to the importance of the environment in recovery and healing, and this new facility takes advantage of all that design can offer.

Features that are key aspects of this healing environment include an open courtyard, private rooms and bathrooms, radiant ceiling heat and humidification in patient care areas, artwork, and a design that takes full advantage of natural light.

During the past 25 years, deinstitutionalization has often been synonymous with the closing of the State institutions. Now, in this new century, the Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, through the support of the governor and the Maine Legislature, has reaffirmed the clear need for State hospitals as part of the array of mental health services in the State of Maine.

During the second session of the 119th Legislature, $33 million was approved for the costs associated with building the new facility. Construction began in March 2002, with completion in January 2003 and transition to the new facility by June 2004.