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LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 17, 2024) — On Friday, representatives from the state, city and community joined the University of Kentucky in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Eastern State Hospital.  

On May 1, 1824, the original Eastern State Hospital opened its doors on the site of Fayette Hospital, located on Lexington’s Newtown Pike. At the time, it was considered to be just the second state psychiatric hospital in the nation. Through epidemics, storms, fires, floods and overcrowding, Eastern State has remained a constant, continuing to serve the community over the past two centuries. 

“We believe that health care is a right for all Kentuckians — this includes access to mental health resources,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “For 200 years, Eastern State Hospital has provided care for Kentuckians in need of help. The staff at Eastern State Hospital is knowledgeable and compassionate. They deserve to be called health care heroes.”

The state opened a modern, 300,000-square-foot facility on the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Research Campus in 2013. Owned by the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities and managed by UK HealthCare, the facility houses 195 acute care beds and provides critical, recovery-focused psychiatric care for adults from a 50-county region of the state. 

Mark D. Birdwhistell, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for UK HealthCare, helped secure funding and support for planning the new facility during his time as secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) in collaboration with the Kentucky General Assembly. He also led the negotiations and developed the transition plan to allow Eastern State to be managed and operated by UK HealthCare beginning in 2013.

“I have dedicated my career to advancing the health of all Kentuckians, and behavioral health has been a particular passion of mine,” Birdwhistell said. “To be here today to celebrate the great legacy we have here in Kentucky around recognizing the importance of behavioral health means a great deal to me.  That legacy is why Eastern State Hospital was founded 200 years ago.” 

In 2021, Eastern State Hospital became the first state psychiatric facility to achieve Magnet status, the gold standard for nursing excellence. 

“Magnet designation is the highest institutional honor a hospital can receive for nursing care, and the care and compassion our nursing team at Eastern State Hospital provides is second to none,” said Colleen Swartz, acting chief operations officer for UK HealthCare. “I’m incredibly proud of the work done here, and I’m grateful that Eastern State is here to help care for Kentuckians with mental illness.” 

The campus includes Central Kentucky Recovery Center, a residential treatment option that assists individuals with mental illness transition to the community. 

“Eastern State Hospital has long recognized the need to be part of a robust system of care,” said Lindsey Jasinski, chief administrative officer for Eastern State Hospital. “As care moved to the community many years ago, that need was met by providing transitional comprehensive residential care right on our campus. Central Kentucky Recovery Center supports our patients by working collaboratively to ensure they are able to live independent, fulfilling lives in their community.” 

Eastern State provides a variety of therapeutic options for individuals, including but not limited to medication, evidence-based talk therapy, and art, music and occupational therapies. The hospital’s Recovery Mall also boasts a gym, beauty shop, crafts room and music room, among other spaces. 

Lexington lawyer Bruce Simpson received treatment at Eastern State Hospital following a suicide attempt in January 2023.  

After a thorough evaluation from providers at Eastern State, Simpson began medication for his illness and began ongoing therapy, which has vastly improved his mental health. Additionally, his evaluation allowed his physicians to properly diagnose some memory loss stemming from a previous brain injury and successfully treat it with medication. 

Now back to practicing law, Simpson has become a passionate advocate for mental health, being willing to share his story so others know they’re not alone. 

“I said, ‘I’m fine’ a million times. I was not fine,” Simpson said. “But we need to talk openly about mental health treatment. If you have a stomachache, you’re going to the doctor. If your heart is palpitating, you’re going to the doctor. But if you have depression, you’re just as likely to not see anyone or even acknowledge you have a problem. That is a cultural correction we need to make. Mental illness is just as legitimate as cancer, heart disease, broken bones and a stomachache.” 

For Simpson, who says he had dealt with suicide ideation for nearly four decades, the stay at Eastern State completely changed his life. 

“The clarity of my thinking now is so much better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Eastern State got me on a different track. I want people to know that it is the best place to be if you’re in serious struggles with mental health. I wish I had gotten treated 40 years ago, and I don’t want anyone to suffer 40 years like I did. If things get difficult, don’t be afraid of going to Eastern State.” 

Later this summer, Eastern State Hospital will take another step to help address the behavioral health needs in Kentucky with its new Emergency Psychiatric Assessment Treatment and Healing unit, known as EmPATH. This collaborative effort between UK HealthCare, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and New Vista community mental health center is a more individual-centered, evidence-based care model designed to address the increasing needs for inpatient and emergency psychiatric care across Kentucky. 

Other state, community and UK leaders shared their thoughts on the legacy of Eastern State Hospital and its commitment to providing personalized, compassionate care for individuals of the Commonwealth: 

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander: 

“The history of Eastern State Hospital mirrors the many astounding developments in mental health treatment over the past two centuries, from long-term custodial care in the 19th century, to the advent of modern medications in the mid-20th century, and the present focus on evidence-based, recovery-oriented services. Today the staff of Eastern State provide state-of-the-art care in a state-of-the-art facility to meet its unwavering goal of enhancing the behavioral health and quality of life of the Kentuckians it serves.” 

Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities Commissioner Katherine Marks: 

“Eastern State Hospital, a state-of-the-art facility integral to our behavioral health safety net, is a testament to the coming together of Kentuckians to provide evidence-based, patient-centered care. The 200-year legacy is a testament to the resilience of individual human spirit and the moral imperative of continuing to build a compassionate, comprehensive system of community care.” 

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton: 

“Today marks an important milestone for Eastern State Hospital, our city, and our state. As a nursing student at the University of Kentucky, I trained at Eastern State in the 1960s. The hospital has been a part of our community since Lexington’s earliest days, and has been very important to the training of health care professionals.” 

National Alliance on Mental Illness – Lexington Director of Advocacy and Policy Kelly Gunning: 

"The need for individuals with serious mental illness to be able to access in-patient hospital care as part of a continuum of care is essential. NAMI Lexington is proud to celebrate and participate in what has been a 200-year evolution at Eastern State Hospital. It is with great pride and respect that we recognize this milestone of a storied history and a future of possibilities."

Eastern State Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Marc Woods: 

“Celebrating 200 years of service, Eastern State Hospital's unwavering commitment and resilience shine through. Reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future, we are reminded of this institution's profound impact on countless lives. Eastern State Hospital has been a beacon of hope for those needing mental health care and a pillar of strength for our community. Our dedication to providing compassionate, innovative care remains steadfast as we continue to evolve and meet the mental health needs of Kentuckians.” 

Eastern State Hospital Chief Medical Officer Andrew Cooley:

“Every physical malady only improves with good mental health. Physical and mental health are deeply intertwined, and the nurturing of one often leads to the flourishing of the other. I’ve been with Eastern State Hospital since 2013, and I see firsthand the impact that we are able to make on the overall health of those who come to us for care. I’m incredibly proud to be part of a team of health care providers who play such a crucial role in supporting the well-being and resilience of our Kentucky communities.”