Wayside Hospital

The Wayside Hospital at its opening. Image from the Lexington Herald, 7 September 1947.

Dr. H. Halbert Leet. Image from the Lexington Leader, 27 June 1959.

The Wayside Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky is a bit of an enigma; from its short-lived lifespan to controversial legal issues, it remains out of the memories of many Kentuckians. The hospital, founded by Dr. H. Halbert Leet, began accepting its first patients on September 15, 1947, at its location on 168 North Broadway. As a small, private psychiatric hospital, Wayside, from its inception, only accepted male psychiatric patients. When it first opened it was staffed by four physicians that specialized in psychiatry and neurology, 4 graduate nurses, 12 psychiatric aides, and a registered medical technician. The staff also included other consulting physicians with various specialties. Dr. Leet and the other staff physicians would only admit patients who they felt would be helped by treatment or those that came for diagnosis. In essence, they did not want a private psychiatric hospital to operate as a nursing facility to house patients. The only patients admitted to the hospital were men who had a diagnosis of or needed diagnostic assessment and treatment for nervous or emotional disorders.

The hospital was constructed to house a total of 30 male patients; it was previously the home of John Skillman and was upgraded and furnished to have a “homelike” environment. According to staff physicians, they wanted to create a “homelike, clublike atmosphere,” in order to “lift the morale and feeling of well-being of the patient.” Furnishings included maple beds, dressers, chests, and tables in all patient rooms. Easy chairs and bedside lamps, small rugs, and draperies were also included to top-off the homelike atmosphere. For those patients that required ‘hospital treatment,’ a hospital bed would be provided to them. According to the Lexington Herald, the D. B. Coovert Company of Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Dayton, Ohio were charged with decorating the facility. Personnel and activity programs were directed towards rehabilitation and social and personal welfare were also established early on in the hospital’s program. Aside from social rehabilitation, psychotherapeutic attention was also a significant focus in the program to help address emotional problems. The hospital had facilities for diagnostic and treatment interventions for physical conditions. It should be noted that there was no indication of Wayside having any general hospital capabilities. However, the treatment room was equipped for minor operations, had an x-ray unit and clinical laboratories, and they also provided electro-narcosis treatments. Treatment facilities were in the basement of the hospital.

There was a carriage house directly behind the hospital that officials would convert into an occupational therapy building and recreational room. In addition to indoor recreation, they provided outdoor recreation such as volleyball, basketball, croquet, ping pong, horseshoe pitching, and other sports. In totality, the hospital had 23 rooms; the first floor contained office space and a reception room, recreation room, dining area for patients, kitchen and pantry, dining room for staff, and a consultation room for the staff physicians. Patients were housed on the second floor and included a reception room, a single private room, four rooms that accommodated two patients each, three rooms that accommodated three patients each, and a recreation porch. A nurses’ office and bath-treatment room combination were also located on the second floor in addition to three seclusion rooms for “highly excited patients.” The third floor of the hospital contained living quarters for the housekeeper, laboratory technician, and chef; the hospital planned, early on, to convert this area into patient rooms as well. One of the goals was to provide outpatient care for the men. The hospital was, in ways, the brother facility to Our Lady of the Oaks, another private psychiatric hospital that only admitted female patients. The hospital contained “modern” equipment, including an electroencephalogram and other psychotherapeutic equipment.

Wayside Hospital was operated by Lexington Hospital, Inc. The corporation included a firm composed of:

Dr. H. Halbert Leet, President
Dr. John Rompf, Vice-President
E. V. Inman, Secretary-Treasurer

Court Case

30-year-old David S. White, originally from Corbin, Kentucky, was previously admitted as a patient to the Wayside Hospital in Lexington on May 12, 1949, for epilepsy and an undisclosed mental illness. According to one report in the Lexington Herald-Leader, on May 15, 1949, White left Wayside Hospital without being discharged; according to the report, White’s “kinsmen” returned him to the hospital without incident. However, the next day, on May 16, 1949, jumped from a second-floor window at the hospital falling to the sidewalk resulting in multiple injuries. Some reports indicated he only injured his left leg and sustained bruises while others say he broke his arm, leg, and foot. White was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington to receive treatment. On May 17 he was reported to be in fair condition. The Lexington Herald reported that hospital attendants confirmed that the incident occurred and that White sustained injuries and that the local police were not reported the incident.

A few short months later, David S. White sued Dr. Leet and the Wayside Hospital for alleged negligence in letting him jump out of the second-floor window. White sought $103,000 for damages as a result of the incident. On January 7, 1950, Dr. H. Halbert Leet received a summons to appear in court related to the lawsuit. White’s attorneys summoned Dr. Leet to appear before Court Examiner Charlotte H. Gardner on January 7 to take depositions. A deputy constable served the summons to Dr. Leet on January 6. The following day, Dr. Leet phoned Mrs. Gardner, and, according to the Lexington Herald, said she could send “anybody” after him but that he would not appear. As such, White’s attorneys filed a motion to hold Dr. Leet in contempt and that was approved. On January 14, 1950, the attorneys for Dr. Leet showed that the subpoena was not signed by Mrs. Gardner and thus the court ruled that it, therefore, was not a valid subpoena and could not be held in contempt of court. Attorneys for Dr. Leet and the hospital outlined their defense–that White was “normal” and only a victim of epilepsy and had a “slight psychoneurosis;” staff physician Dr. Wiesel admitted that he was informed that White tended to run but did not put White under any precautionary or safety orders. The trial would proceed and, just after the year anniversary of White’s plunge, in May 1950, the jury received the case, deliberated 25 minutes, and 10 of the 12 jurors signed the verdict. White was allowed $1,963.57 for hospital expenses and $5,000 for the “lessening of his power to earn money,” only ten percent of his original request.

New Beginnings

After the trial and verdict, the Wayside Hospital stayed under the radar for a number of years. There were various reports of patient incidences including a patient being transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital to suture a cut that he sustained on broken glass. In 1956 the Lexington Leader reported that a patient escaped from Wayside Hospital where he roamed the streets for “exactly 17 minutes” in his pajamas before police and hospital attendants captured him at North Limestone Street and Burnett Avenue. He was promptly returned to the hospital. There were no reports of Wayside experiencing the growing pains that many public and private institutions in Kentucky experienced. By the late 1950s, newspaper reports revealed that hospital administrators wanted to make a change at Wayside. As such, they began exploring the idea of becoming a non-profit psychiatric hospital as a means to help provide back to the community. Though they only admitted patients for their first decade of existence, Wayside would eventually permit women and children to be treated as well. However, this would only be short-lived.

In early 1958 the Wayside Hospital became the Foundation Hospital. Hospital administrator Edward L. Houchin reported that one to two of the hospital’s beds (a total of thirty patient beds) were set aside for charity patients and that they intended on expanding the program even more if they could obtain the necessary grants and endowments to fund it. Other plans intended at the hospital included a research program and expansion of their educational programs and they set long-term goals for opening a new facility and building. According to Houchin, the average daily number of patients under the care of Foundation Hospital ranged from 18-20 with a large number seeking outpatient treatment. The average length of stay by then was 12 to 14 days. Foundation Hospital also expanded its board of trustees from 12 to 18 with Dr. Leet continuing to stay on at the hospital. With those lofty goals in mind, things were starting to look bright for Foundation Hospital. The physicians were transitioning into the nonprofit status and they expanded their program to include women and children.

An Unforeseen Ending

Scene of plane crash. Image from the Lexington Leader, 27 June 1959.

At approximately 7:05 PM, January 26, 1959, Woodford County Sheriff Elmer Goodrich reported that he received a call about a single-engine, four-place plane crashing in a remote muddy field near Mundy’s Landing. Kentucky State Police and the Civil Aeronautics Authority revealed that Dr. H. Halbert Leet, Mr. Leonard Gross, Dan Weiner, and Frank Bancroft were killed on impact. Dr. Leet was piloting the plane and Mr. Gross, age 26 years, was a trainee in clinical psychology. They were accompanied by New Yorker Bancroft, a writer for a national magazine, and photographer Mr. Dan Weiner. It was reported that Dr. Leet entered heavy overcast as he was going through Lexington and lost his way. The men were returning from Pineville where a clinic was held at the Pineville Community Hospital. The crash was about one- and one-half miles from the Kentucky River and about 13 miles from Versailles. The plane was destroyed by fire after it crashed. And so, Kentucky was left with the tragic end of Dr. Leet and the three other men along with the abrupt ending of Foundation Hospital and its lofty goals to expand charitable offerings to the community. On December 7, 1970, the former Wayside Hospital building was torn down. Kinkead-Wilson Motor Co. purchased the property.

Contributed by Shawn Logan | contact@kyhi.org

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 7 September 1947.
  2. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 25 December 1949.
  3. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 15 January 1950.
  4. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 26 May 1950.
  5. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 14 May 1956.
  6. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 April 1958.
  7. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 27 January 1959.
  8. The Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, 7 December 1970.

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