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DHS news release

June 27, 2005


Contact: Jim Sellers (503) 945-5738

Program contact: Joni DeTrant (503) 945-2976


Oregon families obtaining relatives' ashes from Oregon State Hospital



Oregon State Hospital workers have helped 16 families in recent weeks to recover urns containing ashes of relatives who died at the hospital, and more than a dozen other requests are being processed.


"As we work to create a dignified memorial to those who passed away in the State Hospital, I am pleased that we also are able to help families find and honor the remains and histories of deceased loved ones," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski. "Oregonians have a respect for the needs of people with mental illness, and this process should reflect our compassion."


The hospital has received nearly 100 contacts in the past 90 days from families wanting to know more about how to obtain relatives' ashes or genealogical information.


"We are doing everything we can to help families," Maynard Hammer, State Hospital deputy superintendent, said Monday. "With the requirements we must meet to satisfy these requests, people should expect it to take four to six weeks from their initial contact with us."


He said the procedure for seeking ashes that are stored in a building on the Salem hospital campus or genealogical information is to contact the hospital's medical records director, Joni DeTrant, at (503) 945-2976. She will ask for the following information:


  • A certified copy of the deceased patient's death certificate, which is available from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS); order information is available by calling (503) 731-4095 in Portland. Hammer says death certificates will be returned to the family.
  • A signed copy of a DHS "authorization for use and disclosure of information" (form 2099), available on the DHS Web site which the hospital needs to release the ashes, records or both.
  • A letter providing enough information to identify the person making the request as a relative or guardian of the deceased patient.


Hammer said the hospital has urns for patients whose remains were not claimed after 1914, and most can be identified by an urn number that corresponds to patient medical records.


There are burial records for 1,539 other patients who died between the time the hospital opened in 1883 until 1913 but no indication of where the remains are now, Hammer said. He said records show that the state Legislature directed that patient remains buried in the Oregon State Insane Asylum cemetery during that 30-year period be exhumed for cremation in 1913, but the record ends there. (The name at that time was also changed from asylum to hospital.)


Reviewing records in the state Archives and inspecting uninhabited portions of the hospital have so far produced nothing.


A work group of family members, former patients and others named by Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem/Gervais/Woodburn) is seeking ideas for a memorial or other dignified means of handling the urns that now rest on shelves in a small building on the hospital grounds.


"I was saddened when I discovered the 'room of forgotten souls.' We must find an appropriate place where these people finally can rest in peace," Courtney said. "Hospital staff members are making a concerted effort to return cremated remains to relatives, whenever possible. This is hard work and I am grateful for their efforts."


Besides the Salem hospital, DHS also operates state hospital campuses in Portland and Pendleton.