Healthcare Heroes presented by Cam Clark Ford | Outreach makes it happen

Story and Photos by Britton Ledingham

Summer 2023

Staff at the Airdrie Addiction and Mental Health Clinic have a motto – “Outreach makes it happen.”

The clinic’s roughly 20 staff serve about 4,000 people every year at three sites in Airdrie. With the COVID-19 pandemic, their services have been in more demand and their creativity in delivering them has flourished. Led by manager Darcy Jessen, who has a Masters in social work, the clinic individuals across a range of mental health presentations from depression, anxiety, addictions to schizophrenia, bipolar and other mental health presentations.

Jessen has a wide-eyed curiosity for understanding and empathizing with patients, something her colleagues share.

“I love to see the growth in people and their fortitude to a better quality of life,” says Jessen, recognizing she’s always loved to support people.

She began her career in Airdrie 25 years ago while studying for her masters. She was one of three staff at the time, and now leads clinics in Strathmore, Didsbury and Chestermere, as well. She has seen the city’s population grow alongside mental health resources in the clinic, on line, through private and community agencies such as Community Links as well as medical clinics.

Jessen has always been drawn to rural practice.

“The nice thing about rural is, if people identify a need, then we work to try to fill that need,” she says. “Our services are always changing based on what’s happening.”

The Airdrie Addiction and Mental Health Clinic is home to a variety of services including the Mental Health Addiction Liaison Team (MHALT), which works alongside of RCMP members; Geriatric services, Occupational Therapy, Addiction Services, Outreach and Psychotherapy. They also have outreach nurses who work with more individuals struggling in and out of the hospital.

Jessen is thankful for the Airdrie Health Foundation, which has provided funding to a variety of programming within the services including  MHALT, Day program, Group programming and Urgent Mental Health Services. The outreach team, which operates out of an Alberta Health Services building at 217 Centre Ave SW #104, includes Maralee Steward (social worker), Jana Covell (registered nurse) and Monica Berezowski (occupational therapist).

Steward became a social worker 20 years ago. Creativity for her has looked like working with vet clinics to improve the quality of life for a patient’s pet.

Covell brings 15 years of experience working as an RN with mental health patients. Having joined the team in late 2022, she enjoys being able to help people.

“People are stressed. Finances are low. People are struggling, and so is the healthcare system.” says Covell, noting they help patients recently out of the hospital transition back to daily life. Berezowski enjoys supporting community members toward their mental health goals.

“We can go to the grocery store with them if that’s a highly anxious environment,” she says. “We really help build those coping skills in practice.”

Berekzowski enjoys variety.

“There’s always something that we’re doing,” says Berezowski, who has been an OT for 16 years. “There’s always new research coming out that we’re able to draw on.”

The outreach team runs groups, like walking and therapy groups, and a day program for clients who need a “little bit more structure and a reason to get out of their house and socialize and learn some social skills.”

Other members of the Outreach Team include Kris Still (nurse); April Simpson (geriatric nurse); Jennifer Lillejord (MHALT clinician); Catharine Van der Linden (social worker) and Debra Dolhun (Clinical Supervisor). Covell describes a typical day as seeing a client in the office and attending a psychiatry appointment with them, followed by seeing another client out in the community, either visiting their home, going for a coffee or a walk.

“It’s really centred around their goals,” says Covell. “Advocacy is always a huge piece for all of us.”

The Airdrie Addiction and Mental Health clinic serves individuals aged five years and older and their families.  You can best access mental health services by contacting Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500.