Pine Hills, FL

One of the Most Haunted Mental Hospitals in Florida: Sunland Mental Hospital

Sara B
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Photo byState Archives Florida

The Sunland Mental Hospital was located in Pine Hills, Florida, approximately eight miles west of Orlando. The site where the hospital once sat is now home to a playground that many have reported is haunted by the spirits of the children who once lived in the Asylum.

Originally, Sunland was known as W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital, one of 12 hospitals in Florida. W.T. Edwards was from Virginia but came to Florida with his business partner, Alfred I Dupont, in 1925. W.T. Edwards was the first chairman of the State Tuberculosis Board, and the hospitals were named after him.

The Sunland hospitals were opened by the state of Florida in 1952. The main objective of the state was to care for tuberculosis patients. The hospitals were considered ¨state of the art¨ in how they were built. At this time, fresh air was believed to be the best way to heal tuberculosis, and each patient's room had a huge window. The hospitals were long, thin, and five stories tall.

By the 1960s, tuberculosis patients no longer needed to be placed in hospitals away from society, and antibiotics were able to treat the patients. The tuberculosis hospitals in Florida were unnecessary; the state then decided to convert them into mental facilities.

Once converted, the hospitals were renamed Sunland Training Centers. The hospital's main focus was caring for those with physical and mental disabilities.

Even though there were several Sunland hospitals, the most famous one was the one in Pine Hills. It was known as Sunland Training Center for Retarded Children. It would house children and adults who were severely debilitated.

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Conditions at Sunland

The facilities were dirty, with rodents, cockroaches, and pests biting the patients and staff throughout the hospitals. One patient reported waking up with a rat in her bed.

The food at the facility was not cooked well, and over 400 patients were given a gastric tube for feedings. They were then fed gruel three times a day. The hospital was also overcrowded; at times, there were over 100 patients in one ward.

The sanitation was not much better, and patients were bathed on hard concrete slabs. The surgical areas were not kept clean, and the equipment used in procedures was not sterilized.

The hospital was horrendous for the patients and its workers; however, most workers had no choice and stayed. One of the staff members reported that she could not sleep for two weeks after starting at Sunland.

The facility became well known due to the mistreatment of its patients; some of the patients were physically abused and tortured. Some patients had deformities such as respiratory infections, skin diseases, urinary tract infections, and nutritional deficiencies. Sunland had no funds, leading to understaffed and underpaid employees.

However, it was not until the 1970s that the conditions became known to the public. The staff began speaking up and, in 1978, spoke to the Association of Retarded Citizens and filed a class action lawsuit for gross negligence of the patients and Sunland Hospitals victims.

This forced the hospital to close in 1983. After the hospital closed, it was abandoned.

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Photo byPaige Cherie Hundley

Haunting

Once the hospital was abandoned, it was a paranormal hotspot for urban explorers. It has been reported that those exploring the old hospital reported hearing screams and moans. Many also reported seeing shadows of former patients and one hanging from the ceiling.

In 1997, Keith Murdock, a 23-year-old explorer, was playing hide and seek while exploring the building; he accidentally fell into an old elevator shaft, fractured his skull, and had spinal injuries; doctors thought Murdock would die, but he survived.

After this accident, those in the community lobbied to have the building torn down for safety concerns. The building was demolished in 1998; the only remaining part was the old administration building.

Now, where the building used to be, there is a playground for children. Where the location now appears friendly, there are still rumors that ghost children play at night on the swings, as many have seen them moving on their own.

The children who died at Sunland were buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Most were buried in the cemetery section known as Babyland, which was reserved for children and infants under five years old.

Many of the babies that died at Sunland died the day they were born, which is why the graves have no names and one date. This area is also said to be haunted, as many have heard children laughing and even felt tugging on their pants.



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