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How a Missouri doctor exposed the atrocities at Willowbrook in New York
Dr. Michael Wilkins of Missouri exposed the shocking treatment of mentally ill ... He went on to work for New York state for years, placing former Willowbrook residents in group homes. Willowbrook's prison-like wards finally closed in 1987.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y– In 1972, America was finally getting out of VietnamRichard Nixon became the first American president to visit China, and a news story stunned the nationInside the idyllic looking Willowbrook School on New York's Staten Island, conditions were shocking.
Willowbrook was a state-run human warehouseMore than 5,000 mentally ill and physically disabled children and adults lived in dirt and filthOften left naked due to lack of caretakers, the helpless children and adults were locked inside building after building, sleeping on cots and given no education.
DrMichael Wilkins of Missouri exposed the shocking treatment of mentally ill and disabled people Willowbrook, which led to laws that protected disabled Americans.
Wilkins, who worked at Willowbrook, knew change was neededNew York Senator Robert Kennedy had visited the facility and called it a “snake pit.” Unfortunately, New York state was in the midst of a budget crisis, forcing them to cut workersThe inhumane treatment worsened as a result.
Wilkins said staffers had just three minutes to feed each person in their care, tilting some patients’ heads back like baby birds to feed them mushThe bathing process was little more than a hose.
After 17 months on the job at Willowbrook, Wilkins was fired for organizing parentsBut administrators never secured Wilkins’ key to ‘Building 6’ where he worked.
Wilkins reached out to a young and eager reporter named Geraldo Rivera to shine a light on the mistreatment.
Wilkins admitted a part of him was worried about blowing the whistle, but he ultimately didn’t care.
“I figured the world isn’t that screwed up that they think this is okay,” he said.
After Rivera’s story went public, parents had public supportThe parents sued Willowbrook and wonThe case brought the first federal civil rights law to protect people with disabilities and later the Americans with Disabilities ActRivera referred to Wilkins’ brave act of whistleblowing as the story of a lifetime.
As for DrWilkins, he moved home to practice medicine in Kansas CityHe said he suffered post-traumatic stress for several months afterwards.
He said he found one lifelong joy during that awful time: patient Bernard Carabello.
“(Bernard) was smartShould have been a stand-up comedian,” Wilkins said“He would hold court in the break roomHe had all the gossip.”
Carabello left Willowbrook after 18 years after being misdiagnosed as mentally retardedHe went on to work for New York state for years, placing former Willowbrook residents in group homes.
Willowbrook's prison-like wards finally closed in 1987It’s been transformed into the College of State Island.
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