Pictures and Illustrations.
On Change of Management in State Institutions.
Executive Office, Springfield, Nov. 20, 1894.
J. W. Babcock, Esq., Columbia, S. C.:
Dear Sir: Answering your letter of inquiry of the 2d inst., I will say that I was once imbued with the idea that the management of an insane, or any other asylum, should be subject to as few changes as possible and that it should be divorced from all outside influence, but since I have been brought into closer relations with the management of these institutions and have studied the character and watched the tendency of them I have entirely changed my mind on this subject. I now feel that a complete change of management at reasonable intervals is an absolute necessity to the welfare of an asylum. There seems to be everywhere an irresistible tendency to get into a rut. For a time after their appointment new officers are vigilant, wide-awake and thorough, and, even if they are inexperienced, the institution fares reasonably well during this time, for the attendants and underlings of an institution are apt unconsciously to catch the spirit of the head, especially if they wish to retain their places. But, after a time, officers begin to feel comfortable in their positions, and then easy, and next lazy, and soon a kind of easy-going spirit pervades the whole establishment, and out of this condition grows brutality on the part of some attendants, inattention and negligence on the part of others, and looseness of the business management. The head may still prepare learned papers to read before a congress, but the patients in the institution suffer. I am convinced that a new broom is needed every now and then, not only in a kitchen, but in every public position. Nearly all the scandals connected with the institutions of this country were found when the management was old, and rarely have we heard of any trouble when the management was new. I am aware that men who make it a profession to serve in institutions will denounce this view and will cite the fact that in the management of a private business a man finds out who are the best servants and keeps them. This illustration is entirely misleading and has absolutely no application to the public service. In the management of a private business the head, being obliged to supply ways and means, is forced to be constantly on the alert to keep an eye on everything. He is never permitted to sink into an easy and comfortable frame of mind,
458or if he does do so, he soon finds that his business is not prospering. Consequently, in private affairs the employes are constantly in the situation that attendants are for a while under a new management. The very atmosphere watches them, but in the public service the head of an institution is not required to be eternally vigilant in order to get ways and means. These are furnished him, and, not having this necessary spur to keep him on the alert, he in time feels comfortable and then easy, and that spirit soon gets through the entire institution.
As to the influence of politics; it should never have anything to do with the management of an institution; that is, if the appointing power is influenced by political considerations, a set of men will be appointed who will not have the necessary high aspirations and there will not be the effort to bring the institution on the highest plane possible. Men should be selected for their fitness and given a reasonable time in which to work, but should not be allowed to remain in an institution long enough for dry-rot to set in, and nowhere are the conditions so conducive to dry-rot as in a public institution.
My idea of the public service is:
First: Select men solely with reference to their fitness.
Second: Do not put a man on the pay-roll who is not absolutely needed.
Third: Do not pay more money in the institution than similar ability or service would command outside.
Fouth: Do not keep a man an hour after it is found that he is not just the right man for the place, and let it make no difference who recommended him or what influence is back of him.
Fifth: Keep the standard of living of the inmates on the plane of that of the average self-supporting citizen, except where special diet is prescribed by physician.
Sixth: Make out requisitions for everything needed in the institution; have the clerk make a dozen copies and send these for bids to that many different houses dealing in the line of goods needed, and buy all supplies of the lowest and best bidder.
Seventh: Keep the institution on the highest scientific plane possible.
Eighth: Do not keep any man in an institution after he ceases to show high aspiration and that constant vigilance which holds the spirit of an institution firm and on a very high plane.
I have the honor to be,
JOHN P. ALTGELD.