Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville closes its doors for good

7:01 PM, Jun 29, 2012   |    comments
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If you walk around Lakeshore Park in Knoxville, you'll notice its beauty and serenity. You might also notice it's more quiet than usual. That's because Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, which shares the land, closed its doors for good at 4:30 Friday afternoon.

Many employees were processed out throughout the day, and the former patients have all been moved into other community or state mental health programs. The employees know they made a difference in the community, and in the lives of a vulnerable population.

"Cottages down there. This used to be the Village Mall. You've got Baker right there," explains Shelby Grubbs. She is a former Lakeshore employee who knows every square inch of the property.

"Before the veterans' cemetery, there was houses over there. My aunt and my uncle lived there, and as children when we were small we used to be able to walk over, and after all the residents got done with their stuff, we got to come over here and swim," said Grubbs.

The property has been home to East Tennessee's mental health institute for over a century. At one point, during the late 1960s, 3,000 people lived there for treatment at one time.

As an adult, Grubbs became familiar with the inside of the buildings. She spent eight years working as a housekeeper and clerk. Friday was her final day of work.

"We've been packing up a lot of stuff, and of course I delivered the mail and had to get all of that taken care of before I closed it out," said Grubbs.

Much of the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute campus has been closed for years. The state conveyed 100 acres of land to the city of Knoxville in 1999. That is now Lakeshore Park, filled with ball fields, a greenway, and acres of open grass.

Now, the Chota building is shut down too. That's the facility where patients most recently stayed for treatment. The closure is the result of a state decision earlier this year to close the hospital at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

"Sadness for the patients that we once had, but relief too that it's finally over," said Grubbs.

Grubbs and more than 250 employees have lost their jobs, including Lakeshore CEO Lee Thomas. He was in charge of the facility for 22 years.

"There was some denial. People thought 'well, you can't close this hospital. We've been here 100 plus years.' We're very important to the community, but they never lost focus on the patients," said Thomas.

Since January 1st, it's been business as usual at Lakeshore. The hospital admitted and discharged more than 500 patients over the past six months. They stopped admitting new patients on June 1st.

During that time, Thomas prepared for closure, "Our social work team worked real hard in trying to align the needs of the patients to resources we could procure," he said.

More than 100 patients have been moved to other state and community treatment programs. As 10 News previously reported, the last dozen patients were transfered in to the care of the Helen Ross McNabb Center in to a new long-term care program. Theose patients have been moved to one floor in the Chota building where Helen Ross McNabb Center staff will provide treatment and care. The long-term care program will eventually move in to the Willow Cottage on the Lakeshore property. They entered in to a five year lease for $1 per year. The state covering $450,000 in asbestos removal and renovation costs.

"I hope that we don't lose track of what these people need," said Thomas.

"I think they're making a mistake. I think in the long-run they will regret it, but it's done," said Grubbs.

Aside from the time Grubbs spent on the Lakeshore grounds as a kid, and the service she performed here as an adult, she also has a family ties to the institute.

She's a third generation employee, a legacy that started with her grandfather who worked with patients in a small white building on the grounds.

"He taught them how to do upholstery. My aunt worked at the commissary that used to be here, she used to work at the laundry. My uncle returned from head of engineering. My mother worked at the old village," explained Grubbs.

There's one thing Grubbs wants Knoxville to remember as the final chapter in Lakeshore Mental Health Institute's history comes to an end: "It actually helped people."

Shelby Grubbs is going back to school to be a nursing assistant now that she's no longer employed at Lakeshore. As for Thomas, he's retiring, ending a 40 year career with the state in mental health. A handful of other employees will continue working at Lakeshore for the next several months. They will finish work they couldn't do until all of the patients had moved to new programs or off the site.

The state will retain ownership of the Willow Cottage, and the Greenbriar Cottage. The Helen Ross McNabb Center hopes to move their patients from the Chota building to the Willow Cottage by the end of 2012.

The state plans to transfer the property deed for the remaining buildings and 60-acres to the city of Knoxville. If that happens, Mayor Madeline Rogero said the city would eventually use it for recreation. As part of the land transfer, the city would have to pay for demolition costs for some of those buildings. Rogero said there is currently no money in the city's budget to cover those costs and a lot of details need to be worked out.

"We have to work with the state and work with Lakeshore Park, inc. to determine what would get demolished, how it would get paid for, but we don't have a lot of those demos. We weren't expecting to get some of this property," explained Rogero.

The state said they are applying to get the administration building, which is the original hospital building that was built in the mid-1800s, declared a historic building. That means it can never be torn down.


Both Rogero and the state say there is no concrete timeline for the property transfer to happen.


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