SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's state mental hospital is trying to match surviving relatives with 3,500 people whose cremated remains were once stacked away in a storage area dubbed the "room of forgotten souls."
The Oregon State Hospital on Friday published online the names, birthdays and dates of death for the former patients and prison inmates, who died between 1914 and the 1970s. The remains were discovered in 2004 in corroding copper canisters. Some of them had fused together after years of neglect.
The decrepit, 128-year-old hospital was the filming site for the 1975 Hollywood movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," starring Jack Nicholson, which drew national attention to the treatment of patients in some psychiatric hospitals. Nearly 30 years later, a group of lawmakers stumbled upon the remains while touring the hospital and vowed to improve mental health treatment.
Their discovery was a catalyst for the approval of a new state mental hospital and a boost in staffing.
"Already these remains have done so much to bring us so far in such a short time in how we deal with mental health," said Senate President Peter Courtney, who pressed for changes at the hospital after discovering the remains on the tour for lawmakers.
Officials were able to identify all but four canisters of remains. Relatives have claimed those belonging to 120 people since Courtney and other lawmakers first drew attention to the cans seven years ago.
Lawmakers made it possible to publish the names with a new state law exempting the listing from medical privacy laws. Family members can take custody of the remains if they prove they're related by blood or adoption.
The first patients moved into Oregon's new 620-bed mental institution this month, leaving behind a crumbling hospital that had toxic paint, asbestos and a leaky roof. Forty percent of it was unusable, left to collect pigeon droppings and piles of antique medical equipment.
The old building was designed around outdated theories of mental health treatment. The hospital was harshly criticized in 2008 for poor management practices after federal investigators found mice in rooms, deaths from pneumonia and outbreaks of scabies, along with nearly 400 cases of patient-against-patient assault during one year.
The new facility is built with shatterproof glass instead of jail-like bars, and many patients have their own rooms, giving them privacy and dignity that helps with treatment.
"We've made a lot of improvements at the hospital," said spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King. "We still have some work to do as far as taking care of our past patients."
Plans for the new hospital call for a memorial and final resting place for the remains that are never claimed. The memorial is expected to open in 2012.
"It's a never ending story," Courtney said, "something that I could never really stop thinking about or working on."