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Hospital Gives Homey Look to Children’s Ward

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A children’s unit at Camarillo State Hospital that looks more like a prep school dormitory than a ward at a mental institution was formally dedicated Thursday.

“The kids love it,” unit supervisor Tom Considine said of the new complex. “I think it represents something really different. This is very uninstitutional.”

Before the new building was completed, some of the youngsters at the hospital referred to themselves as “little prisoners,” since their former living quarters resembled a jail, Considine said.

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“It was dark and dingy,” he said. “And it reinforced their negative thoughts about themselves. Now, I think they feel better about themselves.”

Hospital officials had hoped that the friendly surroundings of the new unit would have a calming effect on the 66 children it holds, among them some of the most emotionally disturbed youths in the state.

The children moved into the $5.1-million complex, constructed with money raised from state fees on oil companies, in September. Since then, staff and children agreed, the new dormitory has exceeded all expectations.

Adriane, 11, who has been at Camarillo for several years, said he likes the new complex because he only has to share a room with one other person. Before, he shared a room with six others.

“It’s a lot better,” he said. “Kids aren’t bugging me and waking me up anymore.”

Jerry, 12, said: “I like it because it’s bigger, better.”

Antoine, 10, added: “I can fall asleep faster, and people don’t steal my stuff.”

The new complex, which includes three 8,300-square-foot buildings, was in the planning stage for more than three years, hospital spokeswoman Maria C. Tejada said. Construction started two years ago.

At every step, the architects worked closely with hospital staff to design the complex. As a result, they came up with a very homey look, Tejada said.

“The lightings, the color and decor are very conducive to a home atmosphere,” she said. “We wanted to get away from the old mentality that these youngsters should be warehoused.”

The ceilings in the new buildings are vaulted. And large picture windows frame the western hillsides of the Santa Monica Mountains. There is a large entertainment center and a stocked refrigerator.

Hospital Executive Director Frank Turley said he had one request when the complex was designed: no hallways that echo the sound of slamming doors and clanking keys.

The 66 children housed in the new dormitory complex are the youngest of about 164 children between the ages of 7 and 18 committed to Camarillo State Hospital, many of them suffering from extreme depression and behavior disorders associated with child abuse.

The new design--which includes individual bedrooms opening onto a series of large play and television areas--gives the children “privacy and dignity,” Turley said.

Also, the youngsters are no longer required to take showers together in one large bathroom.

“Before, we had to herd kids in and out,” said Dana Barrios, senior psychiatric technician.

Now there are enough bathrooms for the children to shower in privacy, she said.

Turley said he hopes that the complex will be used as a model for other facilities.

“We wanted to make it more specialized for the children,” he said. “The children need their space to grow.”

Barrios added: “It’s really nothing like the state hospital.”


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