“Psychiatric nursing is the cake and ice cream of nursing.” That’s what Louise Jones’ co-worker said to her when she began her nursing career in 1960. In 50-plus years as a psychiatric nurse, she couldn’t agree more.
Louise, who most recently served as a nurse in Elkhart’s injection clinic, retired from Oaklawn on May 30 after 40 years with the organization. In that time, she saw many changes in the field and at Oaklawn, and was even a part of those changes more than once.
Louise entered the nursing field about the same time de-institutionalization began. She was part of the team that opened Memorial Hospital’s first psychiatric inpatient unit, one of the first units to be unlocked, with employees who did not wear uniforms.
“The only way you could tell the difference between clients and staff was by who was wearing a name tag,” Louise said.
After her tenure at Memorial and taking some time to care for her family, Louise started as an Oaklawn nurse in 1978. She worked at Oaklawn’s former Lexington Avenue location in Elkhart making home visits to individuals released from the state hospital and helping run Oaklawn’s residential program for adults. She would lead clinics with clients, provide lunch and make prescription medication boxes to ensure the clients had their medications for the weeks to come.
During her time in that program, she saw the need for apartments for adults with mental illness. So she – along with a few Oaklawn employees, a volunteer and staff from the Mental Health Association – flew to St. Louis at the expense of a donor to see how one doctor was leading new housing programs. They brought the information back and created Oaklawn’s first housing program, built our first payee system, and started building relationships with local landlords. Village Green in Elkhart was the first to agree. Oaklawn and the Mental Health Association were able to rent two apartments, a two-bedroom that housed four men and two-bedroom that housed four women.
“Many of these residents had been placed in nursing homes after they left the state hospital, and it wasn’t a good fit for anyone, our clients, or the staff at the nursing home who had no psychiatric experience,” Louise said. “Getting these housing programs started was so important to the success of the people we serve.”
Because of the success of that program, Oaklawn was able to apply for a grant to build its first apartments, still in use next to Oaklawn’s current Elkhart campus.
Louise was also a part of starting Elkhart’s local NAMI chapter. “I attended the first NAMI National Conference in 1978 and at the meeting, families were crying out that we (CMHCs) weren’t listening to them. After I returned home, I knew our community needed it.” Louise said. The first NAMI chapter started meeting unofficially once a week for family education and support. Over the next few years, local leaders expanded their family supports and officially became a NAMI chapter.
Those weren’t the only projects Louise was a part of. In the early 1980s she had another dream: to stay in contact with local residents who were placed in state hospitals. She convinced her supervisor, Sandy Kauffman, to let her take a day a month to go to Logansport State Hospital and visit local residents.
“At that time, people weren’t doing that, the only contact we had at the state hospitals was through the phone and our residents needed help getting out of there faster- they needed that local connection,”