Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Charles Kurtz, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Charles Kurtz by Karen Brewster on November 1, 2010 at his home in Portland, Oregon.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-15-27_PT.2

Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Nov 1, 2010
Narrator(s): Charles Kurtz
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Section 1: The importance of his experiences at Morningside for better understanding the world of mental illness, and assessment of the quality of patient care and patient satisfaction.

Section 2: Alaskan patients being returned to Alaska when Morningside was shutting down, and his suspicions about some of the treatments utilized at the hospital.

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Transcript

Section 1: KAREN BREWSTER: So we just finished that you retired in 1995 ‑‑
CHARLES KURTZ: Uh‑hum.
KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ from the liquor board. Really, Morningside, in a way, was a very short portion of your life and career.
CHARLES KURTZ: I was just working there to get myself through college, mostly; and the first time, of course, was just a summer high school job, so...

KAREN BREWSTER: But do you feel that that experience has meant something?
CHARLES KURTZ: Oh, yes, absolutely. It was a great experience. I ‑‑ it's one of those things that people don't often get a chance to do something like that, I don't think, so...
There ‑‑ you know, there's so many ‑‑ so many ideas and wrongheadedness about what mental illness is like, and it's ‑‑ it's ‑‑ I think everybody ought to have an opportunity to get to see the reality of it. So...

KAREN BREWSTER: Did ‑‑ did it influence your decision to go into social work?
CHARLES KURTZ: No. I don't think so. I already ‑‑ well, maybe in a ‑‑ in a way. I actually went into social work mainly because there was a ‑‑ I needed a job fast. And ‑‑ and after I started doing it, I kind of ‑‑ I found myself kind of drawn to it, I enjoyed the work, and so ‑‑ but I don't ‑‑ maybe Morningside had some bit of influence, but probably not too much.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then your mother, you said she enjoyed her years working at Morningside?
CHARLES KURTZ: Yeah, I think so. Although she was ‑‑ she had ‑‑ she had a few physical problems, it was a very physical job, you know, you're wheeling around big pans of stuff, and so ‑‑ but yes, she liked the patients and she liked the people she worked with. Generally speaking. I'm sure there were times when that wasn't the case, like in any job.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I wondered if she came home with stories about ‑‑ talk about what happened at work that day?
CHARLES KURTZ: Oh, I'm sure she did, but I ‑‑ you know, nothing dramatic, nothing ‑‑ I don't remember a lot of drama about the stories, but mostly just day‑to‑day stuff.

KAREN BREWSTER: It sounds like from what you're talking, too, it was a mellow ‑‑ you know, a relatively kind of mellow place, which to me seems counter-intuitive to what one might stereotypically associate with a mental hospital.
CHARLES KURTZ: That's ‑‑ I think that's probably true, yeah. It was a mellow place, and ‑‑ and, I mean, I guess you ‑‑ I guess you'd have to ask the patients, but I ‑‑ I think most of the patients had ‑‑ outside of being torn out of their home and sent thousands of miles away, I ‑‑ I don't ‑‑ I don't recall anybody trying to leave the place. I mean, like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you got a sense from the patients that they were comfortable there?
CHARLES KURTZ: I ‑‑ you've got to ‑‑ you know, outside of the fact that ‑‑ that they were living in a ‑‑ they had no privacy living in these wards, and ‑‑ which I guess I'm putting myself inside their head, I would not have liked that part of it.

But, on the other hand, I think that they were ‑‑ that they would have felt that they were treated well and fairly, and that ‑‑ and probably a lot of them felt that they were getting some help there. I'm just, I guess, inferring that from being around them, so... I don't remember ever having those kind of discussions with the patients about ‑‑ not too much anyway.

Section 2: KAREN BREWSTER: And eventually, all the Alaska patients, I believe, were returned to Alaska, or a large ‑‑ they were sort of a ‑‑
CHARLES KURTZ: You know, I'm not really sure how that happened, when they ‑‑ when they lost the contract with Alaska, whether they ‑‑ they sent everybody home or whether they released ‑‑ I'm sure they must have released some people here because there were probably people who were ready for release about that time. But I just ‑‑ I really don't know. I just ‑‑ by that time, I was off in my own ‑‑

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. You weren't working there anymore.
CHARLES KURTZ: Doing something else. I had another job and a young family, and so I probably wasn't paying much attention to that, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You weren't big ‑‑ that's what I was learning, that happened after you had stopped working.
CHARLES KURTZ: It happened after I stopped working there. And ‑‑ and it hap ‑‑ after my mother retired, actually, she retired in mid 1965, and ‑‑ and I think that ‑‑ that there were still Alaskan patients there then.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Are there other things that you remember from working there that we haven't talked about that you had in mind when you wrote us on the blog?
CHARLES KURTZ: Well, no, I think I've kind of hit the ‑‑ the high spots and the low spots, the things that I didn't really care for, the things that I ‑‑ that I remember in a positive light, so I think I've pretty well covered it.

KAREN BREWSTER: We also would like to hit the low spots, too. It doesn't all have to be ‑‑
CHARLES KURTZ: Well, I ‑‑ you know, as far as the low spots for me, I think, were these ‑‑ these suspect treatments where they were use ‑‑ where I think they were using ‑‑ using under the rubric of "treatment" where they were actually just controlling patients, and I was suspicious of that at the time.

And on the other hand, it ‑‑ I guess from their point of view, it was a way to keep the place open and keep the locks off the doors and try to keep everybody happy. And well, I think, looking back, it was a very progressive ‑‑ very progressive place, I think. And, I mean, maybe people disagree with me, but that was my impression, it still is.

KAREN BREWSTER: All right. Well, thank you very much. Actually, I don't know, how did you find the blog?
CHARLES KURTZ: You know, it was one of those ‑‑ one of those ‑‑ the Internet, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
CHARLES KURTZ: You're always looking, so...
Well, I just ‑‑ I did a search for Morningside Hospital once, and I think the only thing I turned up was the ‑‑ was a piece of Congressional testimony about this.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CHARLES KURTZ: And then years later probably I tried it again, and I found the ‑‑ the blog that you mentioned. But I don't know what that's called.
KAREN BREWSTER: The Morningside blog.
CHARLES KURTZ: Morningside blog, yeah. And I found that and so I ‑‑ I was curious, and so I wrote my little e‑mail.

And again, I think that ‑‑ I'm really glad to see that people are interested in this place, and I hope that ‑‑ it's too bad that this didn't start about 20 ‑‑ 20 years ago when a lot of these people were still alive, particularly the patients, because, of course, you'd get probably a lot different story from ‑‑ from the patients than you're getting from me.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

CHARLES KURTZ: And it's ‑‑ it's too bad that ‑‑ but I'll bet there's still some around.
KAREN BREWSTER: May be.
CHARLES KURTZ: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And when did your mother pass away?
CHARLES KURTZ: '90 ‑‑ about the time I retired, about '95. She was 95 years old.
KAREN BREWSTER: Good for her.
CHARLES KURTZ: Yeah. I’ve got good genes.
KAREN BREWSTER: Good genes. All right. Well, thank you very much.
CHARLES KURTZ: Okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: I’m going to turn this off now.