Sunland Center Tallahassee | CaptainK, 2006
Photo Credit: CaptainK, 2006

Around 1952, a new series of state-of-the-art tuberculosis hospitals opened and were named W.T. Edwards, named in his honor because Mr. Edwards was the very first Chairman of the the then newly created State Tuberculosis Board in Florida. Between 1952 and 1969, a total of 12 hospitals were built all over the state of Florida, including Tallahassee, Miami, Marianna, Tampa, and Orlando.

All the hospital buildings were constructed the same way; the main buildings were all very long and thin, consisting of 5 floors with a few smaller wings branching off from the main building. At the time, it was thought that fresh air was the best treatment for TB, so the buildings were riddled with multi-pane windows which could be opened by cranks. The back side of each building was a wall of windows, while the front windows were more evenly spaced apart, especially in sections that did not house patients.

When a vaccine for TB was discovered, there was no longer a need for tuberculosis hospitals and the W. T. Edwards Hospitals were all closed by the 1960s. The facilities fell under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Health and were reopened as Sunland Training Centers.

Opening in the former W. T. Edwards Hospital in Tallahassee, the hospital received its first 18 patients from Sunland Center in Orlando in 1967.

Within just a year, the hospital started to suffer from a shortage of funds and overcrowding conditions. These forces caused a variety of problems to form within the hospital from poor and inadequately prepared food, overcrowding of the cottages, inactivity of the children, unsanitary conditions, inadequacy of dental services, to unacceptable hygienic practices.

These conditions were not uncommon in the Sunland Centers throughout the state. Stories such as children sleeping with rats, patients being fed gruel through feeding tubes, and allegations of various forms of abuse were more than just fiction.

After a series of investigations, the State Division of Retardation and local staff made promises for reform, but reform never occurred. After careful review, the Association of Retarded Citizens(ARC) filled a federal class action lawsuit in 1978, on behalf of the patients for gross neglect and abuse. Even though there are a number of theories as to why the hospital shutdown, it is thought that this lawsuit was the catalyst for it’s closure and many other of the Sunland Centers.

Demolition of the hospital began in early 2006 and was completed in November. Today, there are no signs of the Sunland Center in Tallahassee and has since been replaced with Victoria Grand Luxury Apartments. Relics from the old hospital are said to have been saved and are now used in the Sunland Asylum wing of the Terror of Tallahassee haunted house.

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