Lehigh Valley ACT director Sue Acklen (L) meets with Jennifer at RHD's ACT offices
Jennifer smiled as she explained why RHD’s Assertive Community Treatment has meant so much to her.
“I can be pretty difficult,” she said.
“I have been through a lot, people have given up me, counties, case workers, families, what have you. Lehigh Valley ACT is not the type that gives up easily. They continuously try and try and try. There’s not too many like that.”
Resources for Human Development runs Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams in Pennsylvania and Louisiana, and recently expanded to North Carolina. ACT responds to people who have serious, persistent mental illnesses who don’t improve in traditional outpatient settings.
With a staff that includes psychiatrists, nurses, mental health professionals, addiction counselors, vocational specialists and peer specialists, ACT seeks to meet a wide array of needs at various times in whatever setting works best for the client – whether it’s in-home care or assisting individuals while they are out in the community.
“Everybody’s recovery journey is different,” said Sue Acklen, director of Lehigh Valley ACT in Pennsylvania. “We work to overcome the barriers people face in their recovery, and help figure out how to get over them.
“Basically, our job is to hold the hope.”
ACT is a national model that has its origins in the work of researchers in Wisconsin in the late 1960s who found that many gains made by clients while hospitalized were lost once they re-entered the community. The theory was that the array of services and care available in a hospital setting needed to be replicated following discharge – especially given the expense of repeated extended hospital stays.
ACT attempts to recreate the support and treatment in a community setting, working to enable individuals with mental illness to engage in community life to the fullest extent and to achieve recovery.
Increased chance of success
RHD’s ACT programs adhere to the national standards, and routinely post above-average success rates in the number of hospitalizations (5-7 percent, as opposed to the national standard of 11 percent), use of crisis services and quality of life.
Lehigh Valley ACT is also the only provider in the state to offer dialectic behavioral therapy.
“We want to make things comfortable for the person we’re doing treatment with, instead of being in an uncomfortable environment, where they may close up,” Acklen said. “We support independence and learning how to do things on your own, because it’s so important to gain capacity and do things you’re not used to.
“We maintain the most fundamental respect for each individual who walks through this door. We work with Jen on her goals. It’s the creative thinking that RHD demands and supports.”
RHD’s ACT programs offer a team approach of case management, rehabilitative services, psychiatric treatment, medical monitoring and peer support. It all comes together to ensure that each individual has, as Acklen said, “the right to have a life worth living.”
“They’re the only team that has stuck by me,” Jennifer said. “I’ve been lots of places that have given up on me. ACT has always had my back ... whether I liked it or not. I’m a stronger person, and I’ve come a lot further. They allow me to have different things to think of, and the hope of wanting to do better in my recovery.
“I’ve been in other places where they repeat the same thing over and over again, and I think: I’ve heard this and it does nothing for me. But having more things to go by and do, I’m finally at that spot where I want to change and do better. And they’ve been with me because they know where I’m at.”
‘Human beings, not patients’
The night before Jennifer was sitting in the ACT offices talking, she’d been in near-crisis, and the ACT therapist and case worker worked through it with her late into the night – and then were there the next morning when Jennifer came in.
“They’re still working with another plan for me,” Jennifer said. “They’re always willing to hear me when I have something to say. Even if it’s cursing and yelling, they listen. Lots of people tune you out. That’s not what it’s like here. They’re so willing to come and work with people – they realize everybody has setbacks, we all have downfalls, and they treat us like human beings instead of patients.”
For Jennifer, who has seen her share of pessimism and doubt, ACT has been a pleasant surprise.
“There’s such a positive feeling when you walk in here. As negative as I’ve felt at times, I come here and I leave feeling better. It’s positive here.”