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1960 marked the beginning of a change in the way the State of Alaska provided care for its mentally disabled residents. Prior to this, mentally disabled individuals had been sent to institutions out of state.
After much work and many hours of debate, the Legislature began a process that would bring these residents back to their home state for care.
In January 1960 Governor Bill Egan, a former grocer from Valdez, announced that the new state would purchase the former Brady Apartment Buildings in Valdez for $98,000. Six of the twelve one-story concrete block buildings were re-modeled into a residential center for 50 developmentally disabled people. This facility was named the “Harborview Nursing Home”. In 1961, as soon as the buildings were ready, 50 new residents were transferred from Portland to Valdez on a chartered flight.
There were many more developmentally disabled Alaskans, however, who needed to return to Alaska. In 1963 – just two years after opening – remodeling began to convert the last of the Brady Apartments.
The 1964 Earthquake devastated Valdez. The Harborview buildings were destroyed and the residents had to be evacuated to Anchorage until the community could recover.
Finally, on May 4, 1967, the State of Alaska’s new 4-million dollar “Harborview Memorial Hospital” was opened in New Valdez. There was a section for a community hospital and a section for the care and education of developmentally disabled residents.
This new facility housed 125 residents and had 128 staff members, including 65 on the nursing staff. The staff took pride in the work they did during the tumultuous years surrounding the Earthquake. In a newsletter from that period of time, a staff member stated that they had tried to encourage privacy, warmth, and homelike atmosphere with partitions, bright colors, carpets, lamps, clocks, mirrors, and pets. A gymnasium and classrooms were added on in 1971.
At Harborview in the 1970s, programs and services for the developmentally disabled included residential living; a school; opportunities for residents to interact with the community; training in independent living and job skills; and social services.
Harborview operated in its New Town location near the duck flats until it closed permanently in October 1997.