Oakwood State Hospital and School


(From the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives)

Oakwood opened in Somerset, Kentucky in the early 1970s. Its mission was to serve as a “modern and innovative” facility for training the mentally retarded to live in the community instead of being institutionalized. The facility was originally operated by the Kentucky Department of Mental Health and the cost of construction for the entire complex came in at $13.5 million dollars. During its first few years, it was noted that residents lived in ultra-modern cottages that were built to be as “home-like” as possible. Each cottage or apartment houses 12 residents with a total of six bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, activity room, a kitchen, and three bathrooms. In addition to the living quarters, residents participated in special education training classes, workshops, planned and impromptu social gatherings and all other aspects of daily activities and living. Oakwood touted its involvement in the local community as one of its best features. At the time of its opening, Oakwood was one of three residential facilities that were dedicated to the treatment or “training” of Kentucky’s mentally retarded; Hazelwood in Louisville and Outwood near Dawson Springs were the other two facilities.

Oakwood Residents with NBC Producer Patrick Trese. (From the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 3 June 1973)

(From the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives)

Shortly after the opening of Oakwood, producer Patrick Trese and a film crew from NBC were given access to film a short documentary on the brand new facility. It aired on NBC’s First Tuesday in 1973. However, weeks after the show aired, the Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) reported that a special grand jury in Somerset was impaneled around the 11th of June in 1973 to investigate the new facility. The Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Harold Rogers, appeared before Circuit Judge Lawrence Hail and noted that the request was based on a review of a transcript of sworn testimony given before the May grand jury investigation and indicated the urgent need for additional investigation. On May 7 of that year, an unsigned letter was sent to Kentucky Governor Wendell H. Ford and other public officials alleging “misconduct” at the facility. The acting director of Oakwood, Arthur Trunkfield, told the Courier-Journal that the center was an “open book.” Rogers requested that the grand jury investigation continue because, if anyone at Oak was violating the law or established policies of the facility thereby harming patients, they must be removed or brought to justice. He went on to say if there are bad policies or violations of other policies, they should be stopped and the cloud of suspicion that hung over the “fine institution” must be cleared immediately. There were approximately 350 residents at Oakwood and more than 500 employees during 1973.

(From the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives)

Unfortunately, the cloud of suspicion that hung over Oakwood in the summer of 1973 never truly dissipated. Over the next several decades, the facility would be accused of countless accusations of mismanagement, misconduct, and abuse. In September of 2006, for example, the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky) noted that in the previous 20 months, Oakwood had been cited 22 times for serious instances of abuse or neglect. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid threatened to cut off funding multiple times and Kentucky attempted to change management of the facility numerous times. In 2006, Kentucky negotiated with Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board to manage the facility. Bluegrass had a contract at the time to manage Eastern State Hospital in Lexington though that contract was transferred to the University of Kentucky. Bluegrass currently operates the facility today.

The Oakwood Campus in 2018. (From Google Earth)

Contributed by Phil Tkacz & Shawn Logan | contact@kyhi.org

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 12 June 1973, p. 6.
  2. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 3 June 1973, p. 142.
  3. The Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky) 2 September, p. 39.
  4. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 2 February 2006, pp. 1-6.

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