Management Incompetence

O.S. Gifford

Overcrowding was not a true reason for the problems the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians experienced. (See last post.) Its first superintendent, O. S. Gifford, took over a new facility with few patients. He reported in June of 1903 that he had received 16 patients that year, one of whom died, and two of whom recovered. He was expecting to have a total of 24 patients by the next month. His fiscal year, 1904 report reflected that he had 16 males and 8 females. In fiscal year, 1905, Gifford had 23 males and 16 females.  He used a fairly commonsense approach to therapy, and felt that he knew his patients well. He allowed fishing and picnicking, dancing, and other pastimes suited to his patients’ inclinations, and took some of his patients to town. Gifford certainly fell in with the model of a superintendent who had enough time to spend with patients.

Though Gifford could send patients home as recovered, based on his and/or Dr. Turner’s assessment, he didn’t have the knowledge to institute any kind of mental health therapy for them. His assistant, Dr. Turner appeared to take a great interest in his patients’ medical conditions, but also didn’t have the background to set up a comprehensive treatment plan. Gifford’s real mistake was in not following Turner’s medical advice. When he would not allow Turner to operate on a patient, that patient later died and Turner was understandably bitter over it. The situation brought to a head many of Turner’s other grievances, and the resultant investigation made it clear that the asylum’s superintendent needed to be an acting physician. That didn’t necessarily help Turner, because he knew he wouldn’t get the job, but he at least felt vindicated.

Small, Early Asylum in New York



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