This Week in Rockland: Newspaper Excerpts: Flashback Friday: Week of February 19

2021-02-18 TWIR Image-Nyack Hospital

February 18, 1871 – 150 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Journal

       The Knickerbocker Ice Co., at Rockland Lake, having no more room in their houses for the stowage of ice, intend, as soon as they can get their barges through, to fill them also. They have thirty-two, capable of holding 700 tons each.

February 18, 1921 
Rockland News

       Luther Petties, an eighteen-year-old colored youth who was employed by Walsh & Reichling of Piermont, met his death last Friday when his body was hurled among coal being emptied from a flat car.His home was in Franklin, Va.

[mage: Nyack Hospital, c. 1900; Courtesy of the Nyack Library Local History Room, via NYHeritage.]
       Mrs. Esther Weidenman, wife of William T. Weidenman of Spring Valley, died at the hospital Friday last February 11 as the result of injuries received by a fall from one of the second story windows of the hospital Thursday morning.
       Following the birth of a baby on January 29, Mrs. Weidenman suffered a slight case of blood poison and it was thought best to remove her to the Nyack Hospital as an operation might be necessary. She was taken to the hospital February 4. The operation was not performed, however, as the case yielded to treatment, and Mrs. Weidenman was believed to be doing nicely.
       It was sometime early Thursday morning that Mrs. Weidenman fell or jumped from the hospital window. Sometime after the accident she was found on the ground and carried back to her room, both her hips were broken, and she was otherwise injured. Mrs. Weidenman was believed to be suffering from mental trouble, and it is said that she had threatened to commit suicide. She shared a room with another woman patient who called for a nurse as soon as Mrs. Weidenman left her bed. Mrs. Weidenman was in her 31st year. She leaves her husband and two sons. She also leaves three sisters and one brother.

February 20, 1971 – 50 YEARS AGO
The Journal News

       Visibly horrified after a tour of wards at Letchworth Village in Thiells yesterday, Rockland Assemblyman Eugene Levy and Lawrence Herbst fired off telegrams to top state officials, including Gov. Rockefeller, pleading for immediate emergency aid for the state facility for the mentally defective.
       Their action came a week after Letchworth director Dr. Oleh Wolansky declared that a combination of severe overcrowding and a state-imposed freeze on hiring and replacing ward attendants had created a “desperate” situation.
       Dr. Wolansky called then for a public outcry, saying some patients might not be getting fed or bathed properly.
       Levy, Republican of Suffern, and Herbst, Republican of Newburgh, emerged grim-faced and silent after touring a ward for profoundly retarded female adolescents, most with I.Q.s of 10 to 15. The assemblymen vowed to press immediately for state relief in every way they could.
       Inside the fetid, overheated ward, some young women lay naked on the bare floor or lolled helpless in chairs, their clothing in disarray. Others, some deformed and some no larger than children, lay silently in beds that reached from wall to wall.
       Dr. Wolansky said the staffing in this ward is now half or less of what it must be. One attendant was working in a room where three should be, he said. At night one attendant cares for the entire ward.
       “The people who draw up the state's budget should come here and see this,” he said emotionally. “This is the flesh and blood of their statistics.”
       Since the state budget freeze was imposed on Dec. 7, exactly 100 attendants have quit, Dr. Wolansky said. Full strength attendant staff is 974. Besides the 100 who left, there were 13 vacancies when the freeze was clamped on, Dr. Wolansky said.
       “I have warned state officials that there could be serious, even dangerous incidents because of this shortage,” Dr. Wolansky said.
       When the state freeze is lifted on April 1, it will take nine weeks to train new attendants simply to fill the present vacancies. This does not allow for normal high attendant turnover that constantly creates new vacancies, Wolansky said.
       Levy and Herbst are asking that state money be released for immediate hiring of 100 attendants to get the staff back to minimum strength. They were joined in their plea by State Sen. Richard Schermerhorn, who sent an aide on the tour and who conferred with the assemblyman by phone immediately afterwards.
       The group included Dept. of Mental Hygiene officials from Albany and an aide of State Sen. Dalwin Niles, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Mentally and Physically Handicapped.
       They also toured a male ward and a pediatric ward in Letchworth's old hospital. In each, nurses and attendants testified that they can do no more than provide minimum physical care for the residents. They said both adequate space and habilitative programs are sorely lacking.
       Among other “demoralizing” effects of the state freeze, Letchworth directors told the assemblymen, are the following:
              – The school's brand-new hospital has not been able to open because skilled technicians to operate its advanced machinery cannot be hired.
              – Basic attendants cannot be given any advanced training because they cannot be freed from giving minimum care.
              – The staff is becoming exhausted from working overtime constantly in an effort to keep up humane treatment for residents. Levy noted that nearly as much was spent for overtime as would have been spent to hire new attendants, while service and care deteriorated.
              – Attempts by hospital directors to move as many people as possible out into the community have been slowed because less-severely retarded residents are now being kept behind to help with attendants' work.
              – Play school classes that would have offered valuable rehabilitation to youngsters have had to be cancelled.
              – Plans for a speech therapy program have had to be scrapped.
       Dr. Wolansky noted that Letchworth Village is more overcrowded—30 percent above capacity than any other state school—and has the lowest ratio of staff to patient population.
       Dr. Wolansky also said that a major reorganization of the school to improve care has been stalled by the freeze.
       In their statement, Levy and Herbst said they noted “severe problems with filling the basic daily needs of patients. We were shocked to see wards overcrowded and relatively unattended.”
       They begged for the freeze to be lifted selectively so the school can “preserve some type of humane treatment.”
       Dr. Wolansky noted that all his efforts to get help have the complete backing of the Dept. of Mental Hygiene in Albany.

This Week in Rockland (#FBF Flashback Friday) is prepared by Clare Sheridan on behalf of the Historical Society of Rockland County. To learn about the HSRC’s mission, upcoming events or programs, visit or call (845) 634-9629.


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