Access to Records
Access to some institutional records at the Pennsylvania State Archives is restricted by state law. The Pennsylvania State Archives will not confirm or deny that a patient was in the care of a state hospital or center, nor will it release any medical records in its custody except in the following circumstances:
- Records of individuals who are still alive will only be provided to that person. Exceptions will be granted to the executor of that individual’s estate, someone with power of attorney for healthcare for the individual, or any researcher with a valid court order for access to records.
- If a patient has been deceased for 50 years or more, records are open for research if the researcher can supply proof of death with a death certificate or published obituary.
- All other records will not be released for public access until 75 years after the date of record creation. When a patient record spans multiple years, the 75-year restriction applies to the most recent dated record.
- Researchers may request access to restricted patient data for historical, sociological, or other academic studies and must submit a written request to the State Archivist describing the project and how patient information will be used in the study, along with an explanation of the project’s methods for protecting patient confidentiality.
- All researchers should contact the State Archives before visiting to confirm that they will be permitted to access records.
Researching from Home
The Pennsylvania State Archives will conduct searches and make copies of records for individual patients at state-run institutions. Researchers should call the archives reference department at (717) 783-3281 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Be prepared to provide as much biographical information about the individual, including full name, dates of birth and death, dates of admission and discharge (if known), residence at time of admission, patient/admission number, name of institution(s) the individual was at, and proof of death.
Some state hospital and state center collections from the State Archives are available online on the Pennsylvania Power Library website linked here.
Resources like Historic Pittsburgh, Newspapers.com, and the Asylum Projects are also worth checking.
Green, Sierra. “Researching the History of Institutionalized People.” Recorded presentation, Heinz History Center, April 2021. Resource List available here.