Although services were provided from a temporary location in Elkhart beginning in July, 1962, Oaklawn’s doors formally opened on February 11, 1963. This brought to reality a vision which had begun nine years earlier when representatives of the Mennonite Central Committee constituency in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan met and agreed on the “need for more Christian and professional care in the field of mental health.” Oaklawn is one of eight Mennonite mental health centers.
Throughout Oaklawn’s history, the organization has been guided by this emphasis on quality care and treatment of the whole person—promoting wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Oaklawn’s vision “to help people live in harmony with self, others, and God, through healing and growth of the whole person” expresses this commitment.
Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren in Christ were represented on Oaklawn’s first board of directors appointed in 1958. The board expanded in 1959 to include community representatives, and again in 1961 to include a member from the Church of the Brethren. Robert Hartzler, first chairperson of the board, became the first administrator in 1961. Otto D. Klassen, M.D., joined the organization in July 1962 as medical director.
Initially Oaklawn’s programs were two-pronged: outpatient services and day treatment. Oaklawn focused on services for those who could return home in the evenings and on weekends. From this grew the community home program—often involving church families—in which area residents opened their homes to clients who lived too far away or who needed a different home environment for their treatment.
Two other early developments which involved the community were the Oaklawn Auxiliary and Oaklawn Foundation for Mental Health. Since 1965, the Auxiliary, comprising both church and community members, has assisted with a wide variety of tasks, including both clerical work as well as working with patients. Oaklawn Foundation for Mental Health was incorporated in 1965 to provide assistance for patients who could not afford to pay for their care. Currently it assists with materials and activities for Oaklawn programs, and with funding special projects for the organization.
In the late 1960s, Oaklawn took a major step in serving the community by applying for federal funds under the Community Mental Health Centers Act. In 1973, Oaklawn Community Mental Health Center was incorporated and began receiving funds to provide mental health care on an ability-to-pay basis for persons who live in Elkhart County.
Another major step for Oaklawn began in 1983 when strategic planning led to establishing a psychiatric hospital. An assessment of area services revealed a need for more inpatient beds for psychiatric care. Oaklawn Hospital opened in July 1987 as a 78-bed inpatient facility for adults, adolescents, and children, helping to meet that need. This facility, located at 330 Lakeview Drive, Goshen, also houses Oaklawn's corporate offices.
In September 2010, Oaklawn was designated by the State of Indiana as the community mental health center for St. Joseph County outpatient services. When Oaklawn assumed these services as well as two buildings in South Bend, more than 200 new staff and thousands of new clients were added to the organization.
Over the years, Oaklawn has changed and adapted its mix of services to meet the needs of the community and of payers. Consequently, many inpatient beds have been converted to residential beds for adolescents and children. Oaklawn now offers a comprehensive range of psychiatric and addictions services for children, adolescents, adults and seniors.
Under the direction of president Laurie N. Nafziger and medical director Daniel L. Kinsey, M.D., Oaklawn offers a full range of mental health and addictions treatment services. This includes individual, family, and marital therapy; addictions treatment; pastoral counseling; intensive outpatient programs; inpatient programs for adults and seniors; residential programs for all ages; and community support services for those with long-term mental illness. In addition, Oaklawn sponsors a variety of educational programs for both personal and professional development and growth.
Oaklawn is sponsored by Mennonite Health Services Alliance, which is accountable to Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches. From the beginning, however, Oaklawn’s board and staff were committed to serving the broader community. With a staff of approximately 700, Oaklawn works to provide quality services to meet the need for mental health and addictions services in the Michiana area.