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public almshouseAn institution created in England when Henry VIII replaced the Catholic Church with the Church of England. The Catholics had cared for the poor and destitute in their abbeys which, once dissolved, left a void; municipal and county governments thus became responsible for providing food, shelter and care for the poor, homeless and sick. Public almshouses were intended specifically to care for the aged, alcoholics, chronically ill, feeble-minded, foundlings, the insane, those with medical or surgical disease, poor, permanently disabled and women during childbirth.
The almshouse concept was transplanted to the Americas in the 1600s; the first such institution to evolve became the Philadelphia General Hospital in 1731, which functioned as such until 1977, when it closed due to a combination of reduced funding and an increase in indigent (non-paying) patients.