James Plastiras Director of Public Information New York State Office of Mental Health 518-474-6540 james.plastiras@omh.ny.gov

June 23, 2023

NYS Office of Mental Health, Department of Veterans’ Services and Touro Law Center Partner to Rededicate Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery

The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) and Touro Law Center today participated in a rededication ceremony at Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery, which is located adjacent to the Law Center. The ceremony included the placement of two commemorative plaques, and marks the restoration of the cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for approximately 5,500 former patients of the hospital, which closed in 1996.

OMH Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, “OMH implemented its Cemetery Restoration Project to acknowledge and pay respect to individuals with mental illness who passed away while hospitalized in our State psychiatric hospitals. We endeavor to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and provide our former and present-day patients with the dignity they deserve. The restoration of this cemetery is an important step towards that goal.”

Samuel J. Levine, Professor of Law at Touro Law Center, said, “We are pleased and honored to partner with the New York State Office of Mental Health, and the broader community, in the restoration and rededication of the Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery.  Through our efforts, we are sending the message that we remember the individuals who are buried in the cemetery, and we recognize and reaffirm their abiding dignity and humanity.  We look forward to continuing this work in the future, to make sure that we preserve the memory of these individuals, who were neglected in life and, until now, forgotten in death.”

New York State Department of Veterans’ Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Joel Evans said, "In honoring the forgotten heroes laid to rest at the Central Islip Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery, we give voice to their silenced stories. Memorializing these veterans is a testament to our collective commitment to ensuring that no sacrifice goes unnoticed and that every life, no matter its challenges, deserves a dignified legacy."

Renovations at Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery include grounds work, benches, entry gates, and roadway rehabilitation. Future renovations to be funded via this endowment will include repairs and replacement of the fencing.

OMH utilizes funding from an endowment made to OMH by the family of a former patient of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, located in Wingdale, New York, to ensure that the final resting place of those buried in OMH affiliated cemeteries are places of respect and reverence. The procurement and placement of markers to commemorate the cemetery in Central Islip marks the fifth State Hospital cemetery to benefit from endowment funds, joining other cemeteries located in Erie, Dutchess, and Rockland Counties. 

Central Islip State Hospital opened in 1889 as a farm colony for 89 individuals with varying illnesses from Manhattan, New York City. In 1899, ownership of the facility was transferred from New York City to New York State. Post-transfer, the name was changed to Manhattan State Hospital, which was then changed to Central Islip State Hospital and finally to Central Islip Psychiatric Center. By 1955, Central Islip State Hospital was home to more than 10,000 individuals with mental illness; had its own Long Island Rail Road spur, and a campus which stretched over nine miles. The facility closed in 1996 and the remaining adult patients were transferred to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in West Brentwood, New York. 

As was custom at the time, many psychiatric hospitals, including Central Islip, had a cemetery on their grounds. In many cases, individuals who received care at the hospital remained there for the rest of their lives and either had no known family or family with limited funds to provide burial services. For these reasons, the hospital was responsible the burial of more than 5,000 individuals in its 107-year history, including 500 in a separate consecrated Jewish section.

The majority of the graves within the Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery are marked with numbers instead of names, in an effort to protect the confidentiality of the patients interred there. Touro Law Center students have volunteered to work alongside OMH to help family members locate loved ones buried within the cemetery.  Families interested in finding a loved one who is thought to have been buried within a State Hospital cemetery may contact OMH at: centralfiles@omh.ny.gov




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