Exploring Abandoned Hospitals and Asylums: A 2020 Primer

Abandoned hospitals are inviting and interesting targets of exploration for the urban explorer. These structures are often older and can be quite intimidating in their presentation and architecture.

The average urbex adventure is a storyteller, an artist looking to fill in the blanks of what happened between the building they are investigating was a thriving facility and how it sits now, empty and abandoned. Much like abandoned churches, hospitals and asylums are particularly alluring destinations because of this shadowy history.

About Abandoned Hospital And Asylum Exploration

This embedded niche of the decrepit abandoned hospital and asylum is a natural environment for the ghost story or haunting tale. There are countless horror films and slasher flicks that take place in the old abandoned hospital, and there is good reason.

They are physically creepy, dark, eerie, and carry exceptional emotional baggage as well when you consider all the harrowing tales of life and death that took place within those old walls and along those darkened corridors.

History Leaves Behind Older Buildings

As is often the case, abandoned hospitals and mental asylums are older buildings, erected around the turn of the last century. These older buildings were built before the ergonomics and efficiencies of modern technology was incorporated into the design and within these odd floor plans there are more unusual nooks and crannies, voids, empty space and other curiosities an urbex investigator wouldn’t find in a more modern facility.

Old buildings also have the unlucky advantage of being more accessible to the urbex community. Roof maintenance hatches, steam tunnel systems, weathered doors, and broken windows offer up more access points than a building that was designed to keep the entry points to a minimum.

Old buildings have a bevy of reasons of why they were left behind. Abandoned hospitals and mental institutions add in their own special reasons to the list of justifications on being abandoned in place.

The usual reasons often include foreclosures or poor investments. Some businesses are shuttered as the city they are located in shift their focus to other manufacturing or industries, but every community needs a hospital. So why are so many hospitals abandoned?

But Why Are These Properties Abandoned?

A large portion of reasons why hospitals are abandoned is simply through the change in the medical system and the continual improvement in how we treat our sick, injured, and dying. As buildings age, they offer fewer opportunities for those operating within their walls to make the necessary changes required to keep up with the times.

Obsolescence in a warehouse can be converted to just about anything else, but hospitals are a specific structure and offer few to no chances for an incoming tenant to restructure to fit their needs. So these obsolete hospitals sit abandoned and waiting for a new buyer that never comes.

Going obsolete isn’t always a bad thing. Consider the tuberculosis sanatoriums. They went out of business and abandoned when we discovered a way to cure TB. Any good doctor would rather see healthy patience and fewer asylums.

And as we began to understand how to treat mental health issues, and changed our focus from isolating to therapy, more and more mental asylums are emptying out and going abandoned.

Abandoned Hospitals and Asylums Aren’t Always Old, Though

War hospitals erected in a time of crisis are often left behind when the cataclysm is over. Disasters such as Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina, and Fukushima created notoriously popular abandoned hospitals, but sadly, one of the most common reasons for the ominous abandoned hospital building is bad human behavior on the part of the administrators.

Poor patient conditions, fraudulent accounting, abuse, neglect and scandal account for many of our abandoned hospital buildings today.

Once these facilities are abandoned, why are they left standing in place for so long? The ghost story of the “old abandoned hospital” is one many of us are familiar with because there are so many left standing. Some of these buildings have intricate architecture and are revered monuments of the community even if they are no longer in use.

Some city planner has the building on their files labeled as “future use” or “to be razed” but after it becomes apparent no one will occupy the old structure, no one wants to pull the trigger on knocking them down as they are often gorgeous structures that we continually hope will be put back into use. This is why, in many cases, extensive fencing and “No Trespassing” signs are commonplace.

Reasons These Properties Sit Empty For So Long

Because of zoning and historical districts, it may be difficult to schedule these old abandoned hospitals for demolition. Built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, these historical buildings sit abandoned and aging as committees argue about what to do with it.

Sometimes the discussion is not always about the historical significance of the structure but the age in which it was build offering difficulties in its destruction. These complications only add to the time spend sitting empty and is a benefit to the urbex community.

Another reason these abandoned hospitals can sit empty for so long is that they have an on-property cemetery. Graveyards and memorial statuary are protected under various regulations and red tape which may hold up the city in enough red tape that they shelve the entire process and let the abandoned hospital rot in place.

Again, a benefit for the urbex searcher, but always keep in mind the sanctity and integrity of any hallowed ground such as a cemetery. While it may be abandoned and forgotten, it is in the best interest of our community to respect these locations so we are not lumped in with the casual vandal.

Dangers For Urbexers in Abandoned Hospitals and Asylums

Old structures always include new levels of exploration complications and abandoned hospitals top the list. The age of the buildings often mean they will have asbestos protected pipes. These pipes will be in some array of decomposition so there is almost assuredly going to be asbestos dust in the air. As a result, it’s important to wear a respirator for the safety of your lungs.

Recommended Respirators

The peeling paint coming off in ribbons and strips from the walls and ceilings may be lead paint depending on how long ago the hospital was abandoned and the last time it was painted. As these paint chips crumble into dust, you’re breathing in that lead.

Old buildings also may have locations that were workplace hazards that would never exist in today’s modern building. Many of these abandoned hospitals were erected before regulators such as OSHA existed and could have ancient hazards that you would never suspect.

Old mechanical rooms full of heavy machinery on rusted supports or other unforeseen dangers that pose a risk to those of us peering into these windows of the past.

Aside from the age of the structure, rusting metal, rotten wood and collapsing floors, urbex adventurers need to keep additional hospital-specific hazards in mind. As these abandoned hospitals and asylums fall into disarray, the already unsanitary conditions dissolve rapidly into a rather unpleasant environment.

Our Recommended First Aid Kits

If the hospital had an incinerator, there is likely going to be a large hazard in exploring it. Self-locking doors, rusted hinges and the fact that it was never designed for isolated exploration, it is possible to find yourself locked in an inescapable structure that could require you to call for outside assistance… if you can.  Also, the existence of bio-hazardous material is more likely in an abandoned hospital.

Some facilities have been found with jars containing specimens and parts for further examination being left behind. There is no telling what you may come across in these old abandoned hospitals, so keep your sanity and urbex safely. Best of luck! Keep an eye out for our list of the 10 best abandoned hospitals and asylums, coming soon!