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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
Courtesy of James Steakley / Wikimedia

Madison-based community mental health treatment model celebrates 50 years

The Mendota Mental Health Institute’s outpatient Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) has revolutionized approaches to mental health treatment on a global scale.

The Mendota Mental Health Institute's historic Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), the world’s first community-based treatment model for severe and chronic mental health conditions, turned 50 years old this month. 

PACT serves as the outpatient program for the Mendota Institute. The program has been adopted in 41 states and 10 countries since its inception in 1972.

When PACT was originally conceived, it served as a method to get patients out of psychiatric hospitals and back into the community, according to program psychologist Dr. Christine Ahrens. Since then, the program has evolved along with mental health care practice to be a recovery-based program.

“This is probably one of the best researched approaches to mental health treatment in the community for people with severe and persistent mental illness,” Ahrens said.

PACT patients are each assisted in their daily lives by the team by what Ahrens refers to as “mini-teams” of caregivers. These groups operate around-the-clock coverage for patients with the most critical care needs and provide services including a manned crisis line at night, in-person support during patients’ daily lives and grocery shopping assistance.

“We do side by side support for our clients,” Ahrens said. “We do counseling right alongside of the grocery cart talking about which foods are going to help you if you have metabolic syndrome and are on the verge of getting diabetes [or] which foods are probably not the best choice.”

Ahrens also spoke about the challenges associated with this model. She emphasized that her team must deal with a range of potentially urgent issues that come up for a client base of over 100 people. The model necessitates “dedication and attention to detail” for the healthcare providers working within it.

“We have to do a good amount of triage so that nothing falls through the cracks,” Ahrens said.

Ahrens, who is originally from Germany, said the program has remained “rewarding and interesting” throughout her nearly three-decade career at PACT. For her, working with PACT to incorporate mental health patients back into their community has been a lifelong goal

“I had already heard about PACT in my training in Germany, and I knew that I wanted to work there,” Ahrens said. “This is really the sort of culmination of a dream for me.”

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