19 October 2023

Chat to PAT mobile clinic shines a light on growing need for doorstep mental health services

| Katrina Condie
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mobile chat to pat health van on street

Canberra’s Chat to PAT mobile health outreach service has been nominated for a Mental Health Month Award. Photo: Region.

During October – Mental Health Month – the spotlight has fallen on a mobile health clinic that continues to provide vulnerable Canberrans with direct access to vital medical and counselling services.

The Ainslie Village Chat to PAT (Pathways to Assistance and Treatment) team has been nominated for a Mental Health Month award, organised by the Mental Health Community Coalition, to recognise its innovative drop-in program and dedication to helping people living in public housing or experiencing homelessness.

Run by Directions Health Service, and funded by ACT Capital Health Network, ACT Health and the John James Foundation, Chat to PAT’s clinic on wheels is staffed by GPs, nurses and counsellors who provide immediate, face-to-face support for Canberrans who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks in the public health system.

Directions practice nurse coordinator Ali Loom said the award nomination recognised the “amazing wrap-around care” being provided on the ground by the Chat to PAT team, including Ainslie Village GP Cath Horan and counsellor Oliver Lewis.

She said psychiatrist Bree Wyeth had also joined the mobile service to provide access to on-the-spot mental health support where and when it was needed.

“Access to care is a big issue in the mental health space, which is one of the reasons this service was nominated for an award,” Ali said.

“Now that we have a psychiatrist on board, it’s made our job much easier because we can provide immediate assistance and also access specialist mental health support for our clients struggling to get into the mainstream system on their own.”

READ ALSO ‘Something good could come from my struggles’: Mental Health Month Award nominee shares her story

Ali launched the Chat to PAT outreach clinic at Ainslie Village in 2016. In November 2020, a van was purchased and retro-fitted to service seven drop-in clinics around Canberra, including Kanangra Court in Reid, Oaks Estate,,Veterans Park in Civic and, most recently, the Early Morning Centre.

“Having the mobile clinic has really allowed the service to expand and we’re now on the road every day,” she said.

“The service has exploded since we’ve had the van in terms of what we’ve been able to offer, and being on the ground in communities has provided us with a really great insight into what services are required on the ground.”

Ali Loom standing infront of the mobile health van

Directions Health Service practice nurse coordinator Ali Loom is thrilled the Chat to PAT mobile health outreach team has been nominated for a Mental Health Month award. Photo: Region.

While the Ainslie team is up for the award, Ali said staff across all the sites were “amazing humans who want to work with people in a compassionate and trauma-informed way and genuinely want to make a difference in their lives”.

In a recent boost, the program has received extra funding for a second van which will allow the mobile service to open its doors to more clients, including teenagers often reluctant to engage with mental health professionals.

“The second van will really help us bring our service right to the doorstep of those communities in the Canberra region where we are needed most,” she said.

Chat to PAT has made a huge impact on Ainslie Village, which is home to many people living in poverty and struggling with mental health issues, trauma, substance abuse and a host of other chronic health conditions.

“We have provided a safe space where people know they can drop in and see us for immediate help, whether that is talking directly to the Primary Care team, Bree or Oliver, or referring them to other support services,” Ali said.

“We’ll explore all the options to try to help every person that comes to us, because often they are socially isolated, have other health conditions, can’t afford private medical services or simply don’t have a phone to make appointments.

“We want to provide that extra bridging support and to improve accessibility for people who really struggle to navigate the health system.”

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Ali said the ACT public health system had become much harder to access across the board because waiting lists were long and everyone was “under the pump”.

“For anyone living in poverty, trying to access those pathways into care is an extra struggle, particularly for people who live with co-occurring and mental illness, and substance use issues,” she said.

“We are advocating for disadvantaged people who already have so much going on, and are really not in an equal space when it comes to health outcomes.”

Ali said Chat to PAT worked because “we take health care directly to the people who need it”.


Funding received for a second Chat to PAT van will fit it out as a mobile health clinic. Photo: Region.

Mental Health Month is a time to celebrate the work of the community in creating connection and belonging, fostering the mental health of all Canberrans. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness that everyone has a role to play in supporting their own and others’ mental health.

Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCCACT) CEO Melanie Poole said sustained wellbeing was possible for all Canberrans if they had access to the care, connection and belonging they needed.

“Mental Health Month is Canberra’s opportunity to celebrate the ways we look after each other and our environment,” she said.

The Mental Health Month awards recognise the achievements of individuals, groups, organisations, businesses and initiatives in the area of mental health and celebrate the unsung heroes of our community.

Chat to PAT has been nominated for the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT ‘Innovated Person-centred Valued Supports Award’, with winners to be announced on 1 November.

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