A sanatorium (also spelled sanitorium and sanitarium) is a medical facility for long-term illness, most typically associated with treatment of tuberculosis (TB) before antibiotics. A distinction is sometimes made between "sanitarium" (a kind of health resort, as in the Battle Creek Sanitarium) and "sanatorium" (a hospital).
The rationale for sanatoria was that before antibiotic treatments existed, a regimen of rest and good nutrition offered the best chance that the sufferer's immune system would "wall off" pockets of pulmonary TB infection. In 1863, Hermann Brehmer opened the Brehmersche Heilanstalt für Lungenkranke in Görbersdorf (Sokołowsko), Silesia (now Poland), for the treatment of tuberculosis. Patients were exposed to plentiful amounts of high altitude, fresh air, and good nutrition. Tuberculosis sanatoria became common throughout Europe from the late-19th century onward.
The Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, established in Saranac Lake, New York, in 1885, was the first such establishment in North America. According to the Saskatchewan Lung Association, when the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association (Canada) was founded in 1904, its members, including renowned pioneer in the fight against tuberculosis Dr. R.G. Ferguson, believed that a distinction should be made between the health resorts with which people were familiar and the new tuberculosis treatment hospitals: "So they decided to use a new word which instead of being derived from the Latin noun sanitas, meaning health, would emphasize the need for scientific healing or treatment. Accordingly, they took the Latin verb root sano, meaning to heal, and adopted the new word sanatorium."
Switzerland used to have many sanatoria, as health professionals believed that clean, cold mountain air was the best treatment for lung diseases. In Finland, a series of tuberculosis sanatoria were built throughout the country in isolated forest areas during the early 1900s. The most famous was the Paimio Sanatorium, completed in 1933, designed by world-renowned architect Alvar Aalto. It had both sun-balconies and a rooftop terrace where the patients would lie all day either in beds or on specially designed chairs, the Paimio Chair. In Portugal, the Heliantia Sanatorium in Valadares, was used for the treatment of bone tuberculosis between the 1930s and 1960s.
In the early 20th century, tuberculosis sanatoria became common in the United States. In the early 1900s, Arizona's sunshine and dry desert air attracted many people (called "lungers") suffering from tuberculosis, rheumatism, asthma, and numerous other diseases. Wealthier people chose to recuperate in exclusive TB resorts, while others used their savings to make the journey to Arizona and arrived penniless. TB camps in the desert were formed by pitching tents and building cabins. During the tuberculosis epidemic, cities in Arizona advertised the state as an ideal place for treatment of TB. Many sanatoriums in the state of Arizona were modeled after European away-from-city resorts of the time, boasting courtyards and individual rooms. Each sanatorium was equipped to take care of about 120 people. The greatest area for sanatoriums was in Tucson, with over 12 hotel-style facilities in the city. By 1920, Tucson had 7,000 people who had come for treatment of tuberculosis. So many people came to the West that not enough housing was available for them all. In 1910, tent cities began to pop up in different areas; one was described as a place of squalor and shunned by most citizens. Many of the infected slept in the open desert. The area adjacent to what was then central Phoenix, called Sunnyslope, was home to another large TB encampment, with the residents primarily living in tents pitched along the hillsides of the mountains that rise to the north of the city.
The first tuberculosis sanatorium for blacks in the segregated South was the Piedmont Sanatorium in Burkeville, Virginia. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a Louisville, Kentucky, tuberculosis sanatorium, was founded in 1911. It has become a mecca for curiosity seekers who believe it is haunted. Because of its dry climate, Colorado Springs was home to several sanatoria. A. G. Holley Hospital in Lantana, Florida was the last remaining freestanding tuberculosis sanatorium in the United States until it closed on July 2, 2012.
In 1907, Stannington Sanatorium was open in the North East of England to treat tuberculosis in children. The sanatorium was opened using funds raised by a local charity, the Poor Children's Holiday Association, now the region's oldest children's charity, Children North East.
After 1943, when Albert Schatz, then a graduate student at Rutgers University, discovered streptomycin, an antibiotic and the first cure for tuberculosis, sanatoria began to close. As in the case of the Paimio Sanatorium, many were transformed into general hospitals. By the 1950s, tuberculosis was no longer a major public health threat; it was controlled by antibiotics rather than extended rest. Most sanatoria were demolished years before.
Some, however, have been adapted for new medical roles. The Tambaram Sanatorium in south India is now a hospital for AIDS patients. The state hospital in Sanatorium, Mississippi, is now a regional center for programs for treatment and occupational therapy associated with mental retardation. In Japan in 2001, the ministry of welfare suggested changing the names of a leprosarium to a sanatorium.