Founded by Dr. James McBride in February, 1904 Las Encinas Hospital was originally called “The Southern California Sanitarium for Nervous Diseases."
Dr. McBride coined the motto of “Non Est Vivere Sed Valere Vita” which is inscribed over the entry to the main building. It translates into “Not just to live but to enjoy living”. This was a revolutionary idea in those days as the prevailing approach to treating mental illness was to isolate, institutionalize or ignore. Rehabilitation was not part of the equation.
In 1918 Dr. McBride retired and named Dr. Stephen Smith II as Medical Director. Dr. Smith hired the first woman doctor licensed in the state of California in 1923. In the 1950’s the Department of Health realized that the hospital was running a small farm on the property and required some changes. The horses and donkeys were donated to a newly opened amusement park called Disneyland. During that time the board of directors changed the name to “Las Encinas Hospital” to reflect the greater range of
services beyond a sanitarium.
In 1960 Las Encinas Hospital was given the only dual license in the state of California to operate as both a medical/surgical and a psychiatric hospital. Las Encinas later relinquished its medical/surgical license to focus on psychiatric and substance abuse treatment. Dr. Smith’s son, Dr. Stephen Smith III, became Medical Director in 1965. He and his wife, also a physician, stayed on the grounds for over 20 years while raising their 5 children.
From the beginning, the hospital perpetuated a sense of optimism and hope for all who came for care. It was a campus that remained cheerfully self-sufficient. Cows, chickens, pigs, goats and rabbits were in abundance. Staff and their families lived in the brown-shingled bungalows dotting the 27 acres of land.
In 2003 the hospital was purchased by Aurora Behavioral Healthcare, to follow in the path of excellence in behavioral healthcare. The physical plant has maintained its integrity, but many things have changed since its humble beginnings. Las Encinas has gone from 5 physicians to over 90 medical staff and allied healthcare professionals, from two nurses to over 100, from 3 employees to over 300, from 15 beds to 138, from basic residential care to a full spectrum of treatments for adolescents and adults. It has gone from a small, simple community, to a sophisticated healthcare organization. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The motto, “Not just to live, but to enjoy living” still permeates the work that is done here. The focus is still on high quality care in an environment of serenity and security.
The focus remains on high quality healthcare, but it was then and is today the people who make Las Encinas a facility of excellence.