CRYSTAL LAKE – Joanna Hansen has advice for anyone interested in becoming a mental health court nurse.
“Have an open mind,” said Hansen, who has dedicated the last eight years to serving as the psychiatric nurse of the McHenry County 22nd Judicial Circuit Mental Health Court. “We work with difficult people with a lot of different needs.”
After years of working as an Oncology Nurse in the Centegra Hospital system, Hansen shifted her career to the courts.
On a day-to-day basis, the 45-year-old nurse interacts with and counsels nonviolent criminal defendants struggling with mental illness and currently moving through McHenry County’s criminal justice system. The Mission of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Mental Health Court is to help those defendants recover through court supervisions, treatment and support services.
“I spend most of the day meeting clients,” Hansen said.
Some of those clients can be a challenge, Hansen said.
About 50 percent of those clients suffer from a substance abuse disorder, she said. Her clients range in age from 18 to older than 60. Hansen spends a lot of time learning her clients’ histories to best assess what types of treatment and services they need.
“Some people want to go to college,” Hansen said.
Others want to get off drugs and find jobs.
If accepted into the Mental Health Court, defendants are diverted away from the traditional criminal justice system. In other terms, those in the program avoid jail by receiving court supervision and treatment.
It’s not an easy job, Hansen said.
“Anyone who comes into this job needs to be flexible,” she said. “That is the foundation to being successful.”
Mental Health Court staffers visit with clients at home, offices and in the community to make sure they are in compliance with the treatment and service plan built weeks and months earlier. The team, which includes Hansen, provides progress reports to the court.
Depending on the client’s progress and stability, the program can last from 12 to 24 months, a period that includes access to recovery resources, including mental health treatment.
Completion of the program often means clients get their cases dismissed – or their charges are reduced.
Hansen sits front row to the process, helping people get their lives back on track.
“We want to get our clients to a place of being as healthy and independent as possible,” Hansen said.