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To the State Board of Charities:
Your committee on almshouses respectfully submits the following report upon the almshouses of the State:
The inspection of these institutions has been carefully made at regular intervals during the past year by the two inspectors of almshouses. Beside these inspections they have been visited by the commissioners in their several districts, and by the Superintendent of State and Alien Poor. These examinations have been frequent enough to enable this committee to keep in touch with the officials of the almshouses in the several counties, and to furnish full information as to the management of the buildings, grounds and equipments, the administration and discipline, as well as the physical and moral condition of the inmates.
A decided tendency toward improvement has been manifested, and the reports submitted during the past year are remarkable for the testimony they bear to this general trend. It is a matter of congratulation that our almshouse officials are imbued with the desire to improve the conditions which surround the dependent poor of the State. That they have such a laudable desire for the welfare of those under their charge and for the improvement of the buildings is an indication to your committee that the people appreciate the necessity for an intelligent and humane administration of public charity.
THE DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE.
There can be no doubt of the fact that the almshouses of the State have greatly improved within the last few years. That much of this improrement is due to frequent inspection will not
be questioned, but beside this stimulus, the influence of greater and more general knowledge of sociological problems must be recognized. The wider the spread of knowledge, the more intelligent the administration of public trusts.
Abuses in almshouses cannot withstand the light of publicity. The people of the State desire that public charity shall be administered in accordance with the dictates of humanity, and the authorities who have the almshouses in charge recognize this desire and seek to have the methods of to-day accord with the principles of kindliness, sanitation and economy.
Early in the nineteenth century the last of these three administrative principles was considered as first in importance; today it has taken the third place because the people have been educated to a general acceptance of the doctrine that charity is first all humane. It is true, economy is essential to successful administration. The taxpayers who bear the public burdens deserve and must receive consideration, but they do not desire to be relieved of the care of dependents properly chargeable to them in order to decrease the tax rate, nor is there need, under present conditions, to curtail the reasonable expenses of the almshouses. The cost of maintaining a county almshouse adds very little to the sum which must be raised by taxation in the county. It cannot be denied that an almshouse administration should be as economical as is consistent with proper care of the poor. There is no need of unduly elaborate buildings, nor should waste of any sort be permitted. The end aimed at should be a maximum of comfort at a minimum of cost.
Fortunately for the dependent poor, an intelligent interest on the part of boards of supervisors makes ample provision to meet this requirement. Some of the almshouses are true homes in their provision for the care of inmates, and from one end of the State to the other the public insists that the unfortunate, the aged, the sick, the defectives, sheltered in almshouses shall receive a full measure of humane and considerate attention.
SANITATION. The inspections during the year show that in almshouses of the State greater attention is paid to the essentials of sanitation than ever before. Pure air, pure water, proper drainage and sewage disposal, are matters which concern not only the comfort but the very life of the inmates of public institutions.
Ninety per cent. of those who are cared for in almshouses are infirm, and consequently have little vitality to withstand the inroads of disease. For this reason the sanitary conditions must be far above those which prevail in the dwellings of the poor. The association of so many people of weakened constitution makes it essential that all things which promote disease be removed as quickly as possible.
Ventilation of a proper character is difficult to secure where the flues, windows and transoms through which fresh air must come are within the control of inmates. In their weakened condition they fear the cold, and prefer to breathe impure air over and over again rather than permit the opening of a door or window. Ventilation should therefore be automatic, or at least entirely within the control of attendants. In some of our almshouses systems of ventilation have been introduced similar to those which are used in the best modern hospitals. By these systems the pure air is warmed before it is distributed, and the arrangements for the change of air in the dormitories or rooms is such that it is accomplished at short intervals. It will be to the advantage of other almshouses when similar systems are introduced into them. Few of these institutions now retain the distinctive institu
Cleanliness and ventilation have combined to destroy it. When every almshouse is properly ventilated, this disagreeable odor will be a thing of the past.
The sanitary conveniences of the institutions are also greatly improved. In most of the almshouses the betterment of the water supply has enabled the authorities to introduce flush water closets. The plumbing in the lavatories and the general arrangements for drainage have removed a great menace to the
health of the almshouse inmates. A problem still remains for many almshouses in the method of disposal of the wastes. Several have erected furnaces for their destruction by fire. It is not possible for all almshouses to build these furnaces, and the compost heap is not always a good disposal. Where there is proper sewerage the problem is generally an easier one; in other cases more complicated. Fortunately, especially in the rural almshouses, the farm provides a quick and profitable place to utilize all these things, and by this disposal of wastes the farm itself is enriched. It is a sign of improvement that ques. tions of sewage and waste disposal receive such consideration as they do.
CARE OF THE SICK.
In several counties of the State the care of the indigent sick has received greater attention than ever heretofore. Perhaps the general dissemination of knowledge as to certain forms of contagious diseases and the enforcement of the health laws have had much to do with awakening the interest of the people. Certain it is that the condition of the sick inmates of public institutions has been a matter of anxious thought, and county boards of supervisors, as well as the officials of almshouses, have planned better care than has heretofore been possible.
Many counties have erected separate hospitals for the sick inmates of alushouses, and others are making arrangements to do the same. A commendable instance of this interest is the completion of the fine hospital connected with the Onondaga county almshouse. The building committee of the board of supervisors of this county has worked intelligently and zealously to better conditions which had become intolerable. As a consequence of these efforts a fine large building has been erected for the sick; the entire almshouse has been put into repair, and the general conditions so improved that the result may be called a renovation. Smaller counties have made similar improvements, and, with few exceptions, the condition of the sick inmates is better than ever before.
In some almshouses, like that in Monroe county, the board of supervisors has failed to make proper provision for the sick. They are crowded together, under most uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions, in dormitories where the minimum of six hundred cubic feet of air for each inmate is not possible, and are compelled to linger in pain because the supervisors have failed to agree upon a new location for the almshouse.
RECORDS. For many years the present method of keeping records seems to have prevailed throughout the State. The law requires that almshouses shall make full record of the antecedents, history and condition of all persons admitted. Transcripts of such records are forwarded to the State Board of Charities. An examination of the record books in the several almshouses shows that, with few exceptions, it is almost impossible to obtain the information called for by the law. The difficulty lies with the primary committing officer. When an indigent person applies to an overseer of the poor for relief, all of the facts required by the law could and should be obtained by such overseer. When a poor person is removed from the locality wherein he has resided for a longer or shorter time, the difficulty of obtaining the information is greatly increased, and it is no wonder that almshouse records are often merely skeletons. If the information desired were combined with the commitment now in use it would be possible to have better records. Some of the almshouses have satisfactory systems, but all should be able to make records of statistical value.
Especially is there a lack in the matter of records concerning the sick. Usually the sick inmate is examined by the attending physician and prescribed for, but no record is made. Each almshouse should have a regular form for use in connection with its hospital or sick ward, and this form ought to embody all those things which will make the record a true history of the case.