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Answers elude woman questioning why Osawatomie State Hospital gave dad electroshock treatment

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OSAWATOMIE, Kan. -- A local woman has fought for more than a year to get answers about why her father received electroshock treatments at Osawatomie State Hospital in 1955. Kansas officials hadn`t been forthcoming with her or FOX 4 until we got our attorneys involved. Even now, she has many unanswered questions because of the stunning revelations we uncovered during our year-long investigation.

Images of patients convulsing, writhing in pain from electroshock treatments given in the 1950`s have haunted a Kansas City woman since she learned her father had those treatments as a teenager.

“I found that from the very beginning very odd and shocking to say the least,” said Stacey McBride.

McBride vowed to find out why her dad, a star football player at Paola High School, was taken to Osawatomie State Hospital in December of 1955 and given electroshock.

Why did her grandfather, too, a farmer who died before she was born, suffer that same fate at the same time?

McBride's dad later became a teacher and coach but never talked about those treatments before his death in 2010. Even her mom didn`t know. The news came to light in 2014 when her dad was inducted in to the Paola High School Hall of Fame, and one of his friends shared her dad`s secret.

“I couldn`t fathom that he had been mentally ill,” McBride said.

In her search for answers, McBride eventually learned from her uncle that her father and grandfather had a fight on December 22, 1955. The family`s minister at Block Lutheran Church took McBride`s dad to Osawatomie State Hospital that night.

Six days later, her grandfather was taken there, too. Her uncle said both men received several rounds of electroshock. What diagnosis led to that treatment, which in many patients triggered violent seizures?

McBride says the hospital stonewalled her search for answers.

“They immediately played this game of, we don`t have any records, we can`t tell you anything,” said McBride.

The hospital suggested McBride visit the Miami County Historical Museum, news that surprised one of the museum`s volunteers.

“I was actually told, referred to come here,” said McBride.

“Did you ever hear of a thing called passing the buck?” said Vera Dakin, a volunteer at the museum.

Dakin says the museum regularly gets calls from families across the country searching for information about their loved one`s stay at Osawatomie, but never knew the hospital encouraged that.

Dakin and other volunteers have been told Osawatomie did not have older records. Our investigation revealed that`s not true. We discovered the hospital kept these index cards, which list patients’ names, addresses, and diagnoses, since the hospital opened in 1867.

“I wish Osawotomie State Hospital would just give us answers. Why do they have to be so secretive?” said McBride.

FOX 4 had to file six Kansas Open Records Requests, and get our attorneys involved, before the state released a fraction of the records, about 12 percent of what we asked for.

The index cards reveal even more stunning news for McBride. The diagnoses for her father and grandfather were schizophrenic reaction.

“It just doesn`t add up, and it makes me wonder- what happened?” asked McBride.

Renowned psychiatrist Roy Menninger agrees the diagnoses don`t add up.

After talking to McBride about her family, Dr. Menninger is convinced those diagnoses are wrong, and likely not worth the paper they`re written on.

“That even leaves me to be contemptuous of it, really. I`d just dismiss it,” said Menninger

McBride can`t dismiss the horrors of such an injustice. She wants to know why the hospital subjected her dad and grandfather to those treatments.
Our investigation uncovered that in 1955, Osawatomie was doing research, giving patients diagnosed with schizophrenia two new drugs Thorazine and Serpasil, in conjunction with electroshock.

State budgets show Kansas pumped more money into Osawatomie for such therapies as electroshock therapy, making McBride wonder if they were part an experiment. In the end, answers still elude McBride.

“There`s a sadness to that to think about how horrible therapy was for somebody who didn`t need it,” said McBride.

Meantime, McBride has hired an attorney to dig for more records about her father and grandfather's cases. She wants the state to investigate what happened to them.

Electroshock therapy is still used today primarily for patients who suffer with severe or chronic depression, but because of advances in medicine the modern-day procedure is painless.

Late last week, FOX 4 again asked the state of Kansas to answer our questions about records at Osawatomie State Hospital.

In a written statement, the state said it wasn't forthcoming with information to McBride or her mom, because: "Agency staff routinely deny requests for disclosure of patient medical records without a valid authorization."

McBride's mother had power of attorney for Ray Slyter before he died; she is also executor of the estate of Mr. Slyter.

When Fox 4 asked the state why it didn't give McBride a copy of the index cards eventually released as part of the FOX 4 legal case to compel the state to release patient diagnoses (requested with names redacted) the state said: "Agency staff routinely deny a requests for disclosure of patient medical records without a valid authorization for disclosure. Individual patient records are private and patients have a statutory privilege that must be claimed on behalf of patients. Such records are not subject to disclosure. (K.S.A. 65-5602 and K.S.A. 45-221(a)(3))."

The state claims it only released a fraction of the records requested because: "As the cards were not considered part of the medical record, it is unknown whether staff working over half a century ago maintained them on every patient or how they were preserved over that time frame." However, during our FOX 4 investigation, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Aging and Disabilities, told our investigative producer that the state has kept index cards on every patient treated at OSH since the facility opened. We were told that a room at OSH is filled with banker boxes holding those index cards.

The state also claims "historical individual medical records are managed in accordance with state record retention schedules and are not maintained on site." However, during a visit by McBride and FOX 4 staff, a hospital supervisor told our team she had just read the index cards, on site, for McBride's father and grandfather.