Here’s the story of how one small idea from a unknown Indiana doctor ended up impacting hundreds of thousands of people from the United States to Japan. Several decades ago, the stigma around mental health issues was much worse than it is now. Dr. Burton Kintner of Elkhart, Indiana, realized he needed to find a solution, and put his mind to the problem of how to get those suffering from mental illness to get help.
Dr. Kintner had already spent a life time finding solutions to difficult problems. During World War II, he’d been part of a team in New York who made the field manuals for treating wounded soldiers as they battled their way through North Africa, Europe and across the Pacific. Later, as a coroner, he’d seen how bad car accidents were to drivers and passengers. In the 1950s, it was thought to be better to be thrown from a car than trapped inside. Much to the chagrin of his four young daughters who were made fun of by their friends, he took seat belts out of old airplanes, bolted them to the car’s bench seats, and made his family wear them. He even made designs for what he called a ‘safety car’, designed to protect passengers from impact on all sides.
By the late 60s and early 70s, he turned his attention to the question of serving those with non-physical illness. He realized that many of his patients were physically healthy, but still somehow mentally and spiritually hurting. At the time, it was taboo for many to see a psychiatric professional, despite the obvious need for help. But he did realize there was one place where people would willingly go to seek help- the church. For centuries, people had turned to pastors, priests and rabbis to share their problems and issues. Dr. Kintner’s idea was simple- he as medical doctor would give exams to patient clients to rule out any physical ailments, and then they would go talk to and receive help from trained pastors, therapists and counselors. By using a team approach, they were able serve and help people in an entirely new way.
He and a pastor, Rev. R.J. Ross, set up shop in the basement of a Presbyterian church on the edge of the St. Joseph River. Over time, the little non-profit, called The Samaritan Center, grew from one location in northern Indiana to 481 Samaritan Centers in 389 cities in the United States and Japan, headquartered at the Samaritan Institute in Denver, CO. Thousands of incredible people work through these locations for programs including mental health services for adults, adolescents and children, women in need, soldiers with PTSD, and the list goes on.
What makes this even more special for me is that Dr. Kintner was my grandpa. He was a humble man, so I didn’t even learn about this story until I was out of college. One other thing really stood out to me about how he started this. Earlier this week, I wrote “3 Small Steps To Making 1 Big Impact“. One of the keys is knowing yourself. Part of that is not only knowing what you are, but what you’re not. My grandpa could have tried to do this alone, but he realized that even though he had a passion for helping those with mental health issues, he was a medical doctor, not a counselor. Without Rev. Ross and his talents and skills, and the support of The Martin Foundation who funded this early and often, the impact on all those lives may have never happened. Even after my grandpa’s passing from Parkinson’s Disease, his impact goes on and on.