ACTing on mental health in the community

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A new mental health team is making their services are mobile to help those often left struggling with mental illness.

Vera French Assertive Community Treatment or ACT Team serves people who face severe long-term psychiatric disorders.

“It’s treatment that’s based on the individual’s need. It’s time unlimited, so however long they need to be in the program, they can be in the program. We do most of the interactions in their homes or out in the community,” ACT Team Lead Tania Deal said.

Going to them can make the difference in encouraging and maintaining treatment. 

Vera French Clinical Director Chris McCormick Pries said, “To meet people where they are says, we are willing to really come to you and try to understand what your life experience is and then we’re going to try to help you develop a higher quality life, a safer life.”

She added, sometimes people are uncomfortable coming to an office because they feel judged and different and that can leave their condition unmanaged.

That’s why a different approach was decided.

People accepted into the program are called members because they’re part of the team.

They are with diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Often they have not been compliant with treatment and deal with additional struggles in everyday life.

“Because of their mental illness, they may also be using substances, but they’ve also had frequent contact with emergency rooms, police departments, sheriff departments, business owners downtown. Shelters in the community, many of them are homeless. These individuals with certainly with psychiatric illness but a lot of complex social needs,” McCormick Pries said.

The goal is to provide the whole treatment experience, not just for the mental illness, but help to access basic needs like housing and employment and services.

Deal said, “We can work with budgeting, we can help them apply for services that might be needed.”

There is also education to help develop coping skills, relationship development and other lessons to help them with social needs. 

Part of that mobile care allows the providers to ensure they receive medication and support they need. 

ACT Team RN Annie Wristen said, “I actually once a week deliver medication to our members, and we use a lot of long-term injectable medications to help with med compliance. 

It’s the first of its kind in the Quad Cities and sixth in Iowa starting in December 2017.

“We work with all those people who weren’t getting the services, and so it’s meeting the needs of the severe and persistent mentally ill,” said Deal. 

The team consists of five providers including a social worker team lead, substance abuse professional, nurse, rehabilitation and support services professional to the members and their families. 

McCormick Pries said, “It’s a diverse team. It’s a team that provides the whole spectrum of services and assessment for individuals who then become members of our team.”

Part of that commitment has the team meeting with their members regularly, sometimes daily, to develop a relationship.

“When you start working with someone, and you get to know them, they’re like a really tight-budded rose. When they start receiving services, and they’re taking their meds as they’re supposed to and they’re accomplishing their goals they set with us, it’s like a rose opening up,” ACT Team Substance Abuse Specialist Rebecca Mueller.

A goal of the ACT Team is to help reduce hospitalizations, incarcerations and homelessness among those with mental health issues.

Members are referred to the program by hospitals, law enforcement and within Vere French.

They accept about six new members a month.

“We’re on call 24/7, and so if they’re having crisis, they’re able to call us, and we can go out there so they may not call the police every time,” said Deal.  

The program is funded through a nearly $500,000 grant from Genesis Philanthropy.

Increasing the number of ACT Teams is part of mental health legislation being considered in Iowa. 

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