Bradley Hospital Turns 90

Bradley Hospital Turns 90Made possible by the generous legacy of George and Helen Bradley, the Emma Pendleton Bradley Home was dedicated April 8, 1931.

Since its establishment as the nation’s first hospital exclusively for children who have psychological, developmental, and behavioral problems, the hospital has grown to serve more than 5,000 young people annually through a rich array of programs. As a teaching hospital, it helps prepare tomorrow’s mental health professionals, and, in collaboration with Hasbro Children’s Hospital, is one of the nation’s premier child mental health research training sites.

“The Bradleys would be blown away by what exists now … they would find it remarkable. We have fulfilled their wish in ways they could never have imagined,” said Henry Sachs III, MD, president of Bradley Hospital and Lifespan medical director for child psychiatry and behavioral health. While the hospital administrator’s title has changed through the decades, Dr. Sachs is the eighth person to lead Bradley Hospital. He has witnessed one-third of Bradley’s history, having come to the hospital 30 years ago.

Bradley Hospital's History

The “backstory” of Bradley Hospital is a fascinating one.

George Bradley made his fortune through his early championing of the telephone, which led to him becoming the first secretary-treasurer of the National Bell Telephone Company, in 1877.

Several years later, the Bradleys’ only child, 7-year-old Emma, was stricken with encephalitis. The damage to her brain left her physically handicapped, epileptic, and severely intellectually disabled.

There was little medical treatment available to a child such as Emma in the late 19th century. Her parents made their Pomfret, Connecticut, home into a hospital for one patient. Emma Pendleton Bradley died in 1906, at 27. Her father had died the previous year; her mother lived until 1919.

The Bradleys ensured that something good would come out of their heartbreak – to, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Their will instructed that their bequest be used to establish “a place for the care, treatment, relief, and support of … (children) afflicted with nervous or other chronic diseases … Out of the misfortune of our only child has grown the purpose and the hope that from the affliction of this one life may come comfort and blessing to many suffering in like manner.”

As Dr. Sachs observed, Bradley Hospital, which became part of Lifespan in 1996, has fulfilled the benefactors’ vision – and then some.

Ensuring the Best Continuum of Care – Now and in the Future

“Probably the most important factor in our success is our continuum of care,” being able to provide what the child needs, whether that is inpatient or outpatient care, partial hospital, a school program, or residential care, he said. “This continuum allows us to provide focused care at the clinical intensity the kids need. That’s pretty unique.”

Of course, “the staff’s contribution is everything when it’s all said and done. This is a very labor-intensive, challenging job, and people who come to work here come because they believe in the mission … and they believe this is a place where they can fulfill the mission.

“People are asked to do challenging work, and they do it extremely well. They’re very dedicated to the kids and the families that we serve, and to each other. That makes a real difference in what we’re able to provide.”

Dr. Sachs said he believes the most significant development at Bradley Hospital in the last 10 years “has been the expansion of our partial hospital level of care. Couple that with our outreach to the community, our Bradley Learning Exchange … and the third part, that we have improved the coordination of care between Bradley and Hasbro Children’s hospitals” for children with coexisting medical and psychiatric conditions, has improved the quality and extent of care we provide our patients and the community.

“In the last year, the big change has been telehealth” as the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic broke down some barriers to using the technology. “It’s been remarkably successful for us,” Dr. Sachs said.

He sees telehealth playing an even bigger role in the decade ahead. “Now, we’re looking at ‘How can we expand beyond our borders? How can we start applying what we’ve learned here to other settings?’ and that’s really exciting … The need is so great out there.”