Hanover County’s Community Services Board attempts to meet the needs of a wide variety of people, from those who are living with challenges of substance abuse issues to those who have developmental disabilities, for example. An important part of their mission is to provide assistance to people with serious mental illness whose needs have not been well met by more traditional service delivery approaches. The Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team leads these efforts. “This is the most fulfilling career choice I have ever made,” says Dr. Shelly Klinger, team psychiatrist. “The opportunities to work with this great team and to treat people with serious mental health disorders has been a life-changing experience for me.”
Team members such as Shawn Braxton go to the homes of clients being served by this program and visit with them and family members regularly. Sometimes the visit is to provide them with the medication their condition requires. But he emphasizes each client has the right to make their own decisions about their treatment. He is there to provide emotional support to them. “Every person has the right of self-determination,” Shawn says.
“We get to see people in their homes with their families, with their parents or their children,” Dr. Klinger says. “We see the beautiful gardens they may be growing, other activities which bring them fulfillment. I feel it’s almost a spiritual thing. They are not defined by their illness.” The people being served by this program are those with a severe psychosis, such as schizophrenia. Some patients have dealt with their condition for their entire lives. In some cases, the psychosis has come upon them unexpectedly. Hanover County’s ACT Team serves up to 50 clients, who are referred to them by hospitals or other localities. The ACT Team has 10 staff members.
Years ago, many of the clients they serve would be hospitalized indefinitely, in jail or perhaps homeless. Deinstitutionalization Laws have changed to require those with such mental illnesses to be removed from institutions like the former state hospitals as they are able to live safely in the community in a less restrictive environment. Hanover’s ACT Team acts almost like “a hospital without walls.” “These services are person-centered,” says Vincent Newby, case manager. Hanover poses some challenges for those with these disorders. For example, there is no public transportation as there is in more urbanized areas. “We take them to their doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and social activities,” says Lorraine Golding. But the program is also generously supported by the County government as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Greg, who is a student intern from Virginia Commonwealth University, says what is unique about Hanover’s Assertive Community Treatment team is the close collaboration among the team members. Shawn Braxton, Mike Canada, Anastasia Djangmah, Lorraine Golding, Sandy Jones, Dr. Shelly Klinger, Vincent Newby, Kody Palmer, Greg Podolak (intern), Devin Thomas. The team meets every day to discuss their clients’ psychosocial status and offer each other advice and assistance. It’s a great local government service and we are proud to recognize them during National County Government Month, which is April.