Muscatatuck Oral History - Patty Cook Interview
“One of the first things that she said was ‘I want a lawyer.’” Patty Cook recounts her experience with a teenager who had severe cerebral palsy and had been given a communication device for the first time. Patty was first hired at Muscatatuck State Hospital and Training Center as a music therapist in 1971. In the early years, her impression was that, despite what she was told, many residents did not have an intellectual disability. “Sometimes the only way you could tell the difference whether they were a working patient or a staff person was the color of the uniforms." Peonage, or unpaid work at institutions, was not yet illegal.
Patty describes how residents worked in food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, and more. “We also had people, actually clients that were helping other clients." She recalls numerous activities available in her early years at the Center, offered to residents considered higher-functioning. These included music ensembles, skating, films, parades, street dances. Some residents were not able to participate, however. "When you look at programming, when you look at who gets to go to movies and who gets to go shopping and who gets to go to Olympics and all of those things, it was the ones that behave." Residents who did not behave, she says were subjected to various types of restraints and to psychoactive medication. Later, “we learned that we had to find another way and there was more emphasis put on bringing in professional staff to help train our staff.”
After decades of employment, Patty was interviewed the year before Muscatatuck State Developmental Center closed in 2005. She had worked as a case manager and was eventually the director of a geriatric unit. She recalls how, at the time when the Center came under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1998, it was very difficult to find employees. “We were short 200 direct care staff.” Then came the Governor’s announcement. "The week that we heard that Muscatatuck was closing was like a funeral. Everybody just walked around in a daze." “It’s been a tremendous stress among the staff.” She also recognized the positive aspects of the closure for residents. “We hate to see them leave, we know that they’ve had a good life here, they’ve lived here for some of them over 50 years and we really hate to see them go. But we have the opportunity to go out and see the homes that they’re in and we see how much progress they’ve made.”
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