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Home-based program offers unique support for mentally ill

Morgan Aguilar
April 19, 2017 06:36 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Mental illness often leads to homelessness and even jail time for vulnerable New Mexicans. But a city-funded program is helping keep many of them housed and healthy.

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University of New Mexico Hospital’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program was the first in the state. A team of eight employees consistently care for between 60 and 80 clients with severe and persisting mental illness.

According to the ACT website, the approach  is "a total team effort involving a prescribing provider, nurses, social work, therapists, substance abuse specialist, peer support specialist, and case managers with the emphasis on home visits and other interventions to promote recovery in the community."

Bonnie Mount is a registered nurse on the ACT team. She has been with the program for 11 years.

"I really liked having a relationship with the clients," Mount said. "We get to have a long-term relationship with the clients that hospital nurses don't get to have."

Mount started visiting Patrick Burns six years ago. Burns wasn’t officially diagnosed with schizophrenia until he was 50 years old.

"I had a falling out with my father, and family forced me to seek some kind of medical help and they made me do some drawings and stuff," Burns said. "I still don't understand how they came up with the diagnosis but the doctor just goes, 'You're schizophrenic.'"

Burns had a hard time being consistent with his medication, so he was referred to ACT. Now, Mount brings him his medication every Monday.

"My brothers are pretty busy," Burns said. "They wouldn't have time to do that."

ACT nurses also bring groups of clients out into the community.

"She started taking a group of us to lift weights at the community center, and she takes us out into the public," Burns said. "We went to the Isotopes game and that was kind of cool and then we go to the zoo every now and then. That kind of helps you know like to be in public. She makes you feel real normal."

The clients are also invited to weekly group meetings where they learn some social behaviors that can help them feel more comfortable with public interactions.

"Being in public is OK with me, you know," Burns said. "I ride the bus a lot so I interact with a lot of different kinds of people."

Mount said there is an extensive screening process for each prospective client.

"Before we go into the home we try to make sure it's as safe as possible for the team to go in and that the client is comfortable with us being there," Mount said.

Clients are referred to them from anyone from family members to jails or homeless shelters.

"We're able to decrease hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and the number of jail days that people may experience from homelessness," Mount said.

They've helped Burns not only live on his own but support other families who may have a loved one with a mental illness.

"Sometimes their immediate family gets freaked out or something and you know, if I’ve just got to talk to them they kind of calm down and stuff you know," Burns said.

You can learn more about the ACT program here: http://hospitals.unm.edu/bh/act.shtml

Credits

Morgan Aguilar

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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