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Sterilization Patients Victimized Again
By: Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from the Wilmington Journal
Originally posted 8/16/2005

WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) –There is confusion about exactly how victims of the state’s sterilization program can get their medical records.
And from whom?
After the story broke in 2002 about how the state of North Carolina, from 1929 to 1974, involuntarily sterilized the majority of the 7,600 victims of its eugenics program, notarized requests from some of those people were sent to the State Archives in the Dept. of Cultural Resources for their medical records documenting the operations, and the reasons for them.
Only those persons can legally obtain their records.

Many of the sterilizations were performed in state hospitals, which may or may not still retain a copy of those records today.

When the General Assembly created the five-member Eugenics Board in 1933 to review and approve sterilization cases that were “in the best interest of the individual’s mental, moral, or physical health” and “the public good,” a copy of the eugenics candidates’ medical records was attached to the recommendation from a social worker or other authority to operate.

The recommendation was usually a social history that determined whether the person would be fit later in life to have children.

The program was designed to sterilize poor females, and some males, mainly Black and White, who were determined to be “feebleminded, mentally retarded, insane or epileptic.” But many, in fact, were not. Those who were deemed promiscuous or “problem children” were also sterilized.

According to The Winston-Salem Journal, which revealed much of the startling information in its 2002 five-part series “Against Their Wills,” social workers and other authorities wrote disparaging assessments of the victims, and their communities, in their medical records.

In the file of Ernestine Moore, for instance, who was sterilized in 1965 in Pitt County at the age of 14, a social worker wrote that the people who lived near her were “of low incomes and low morals.” Moore was classified as feebleminded, even though she wasn’t.

In fact, the social worker wrote, “Ernestine has no appearance of retardation.”
Upon reading what was written in her file, Ms. Moore, 54, told The Journal that North Carolina should “pay for the pain” and suffering she’s gone through since her sterilization.

She had kept her secret for 40 years.
Reading her file angered her so much, she went public with her outrage.
According to Debbie Blake, supervisor of the state Archives/Records, since 2002, of the 38 requests for medical records that have come in, only eight sets of records have been found and sent out.

“The rest could not be found,” Blake added, noting that there was one request they’re still searching for.
But that may well be the last one that the staff of the State Archives honors.
By agreement with Cultural Resources, as of August 1, the N. C. Dept. of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has custody of the eugenics medical records, according to Ms. Blake, even though technically, the records are still physically in the State Archives.

That means NCDHHS, and not the State Archives, is officially tasked to honor all requests for eugenics victims’ medical records.

But there’s a problem.

Two-and-a-half years after Gov. Easley apologized to the eugenics victims and their families; two years after the governor’s special legislative task force recommended that NCDHHS take the lead in researching the records, identifying the victims and providing services; and two weeks after the agreement with Cultural Resources took hold, the state’s largest agency is not ready to handle any significant volume of medical records requests.

In fact, NCDHHS still has to hire a staffer specifically designated for the job.

As a result, says Debbie Crane, spokesperson for NCDHHS, there are no formal procedures set up as this time for eugenics victims to request and receive their medical records.

That doesn’t mean if someone sends in a notarized request, it wouldn’t be honored. But no one there has been specifically assigned to handle the job, for now, admits Crane.

Debbie Blake in State Archives confirms that her department has been trying to ascertain for the past two weeks who has been assigned so they could redirect inquiries there, and could not get an answer.

Part of the problem is there have not been that many requests for records, due to the state’s refusal to fund a media campaign to inform eugenics victims about their rights.

“We actually want to find them, Crane told The Wilmington Journal, but have few ways other than free media to do so.

For now, Crane is advising that eugenics victims call the Citizens Services toll free line at 1-800-662-7030, and ask for Michael Leach to get direction on how to obtain their medical records.

But state Rep. Larry Womble [D-Forsyth], expressed concern to The Wilmington Journal about NCDHHS not devising a legislative package of services for the eugenics victims by now, as recommended by the governor’s special task force in 2003, and reiterated this week by Easley in an exclusive statement to the Journal.

“The practice of eugenics was a sad and regrettable chapter in the state’s history, and it must be one that is never repeated again,” Gov. Easley wrote. “That is why I directed [NCDHHS] Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom to head a task force to closely examine the issue and make recommendations. Current state efforts are focused on identifying and locating survivors, and implementing the task force recommendations to provide health care and educational benefits to victims.”

But two years have passed and the recommendations have not been acted on.


NCHHS spokesperson Debbie Crane says the agency has to hire a temporary staff person to cull the eugenics medical records to identify the victims, match that information up with NCHHS’s database to determine who is still living, their age and location, and then fashion a legislative package based on that information.

Crane admitted however, that NCHHS is not sure how long the process will take. No one, so far, has been hired to begin the work.


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