In 1934, La Nación, Argentina's oldest daily newspaper, reported that every public institution for the insane and mentally retarded in the republic was severely overcrowded. The National Hospital for the Female Insane (Hospital Nacional de Alienadas, hereafter the HNA), with a capacity for 1,600 patients, cared for over 3,000. The men's Hospice of the Virgin of Mercy (Hospicio de las Mercedes, hereafter the Hospicio), was 890 patients over its 1,100 bed limit. Overcrowding was even more dire in the country's rural facilities, several of which had been designed to relieve urban hospitals.
While the crisis had in fact been long in the making, the 1930s marked a new low point in the public image of the hospitals. In 1910 – Argentina's centennial year – these same hospitals enjoyed reputations as being advanced medical institutions. The 1908 visit of Georges Clemenceau, future president of France, to the Hospicio's rural satellite facility, and his report of the trip in 1910, is emblematic of Argentina's prospects. The future French president reported that the ten-year-old National Colony for the Insane was a ‘model for the older peoples’ of Europe to emulate. Forcible restraints and isolation cells were absent, and patients lived in modern, spacious and comfortable cottage-style dormitories. The daily schedule revolved around work therapy that kept all able bodied busy, productive and mentally focused. Similar reports, many coming from other European observers, echoed Clemenceau's optimism.