Alumna Helps Patients Struggling with Mental Illness
By Ginger Hall Carnes
Toni Brent, M.S.N., RN, PMHNP-BC, has always been intrigued by the study of the mind—earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology after becoming a registered nurse. She has dedicated her nursing career to educating those with mental health issues.
In 2011, Brent completed the School of Nursing’s Master of Science in Nursing program. She specialized in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track for her M.S.N.
“During my last clinical rotation, I was placed at The Center for Health Care Services. This was my first exposure to a community health environment. Upon completion of my rotation, I decided I wanted to work there in community mental health,” she said. “My joy is my work and providing services to individuals who would not have access to care if our organization didn’t exist. My daily goal is to provide the best quality and evidence-based care.”
The center is the umbrella organization for mental health services in Bexar County. It receives state funds and support from Bexar County Commissioners Court, University Health System and other community partners. “The center is an organization that provides hope, help, healing and recovery,” said Brent, who has worked there for six years.
In a health care field known for the depths of its challenging work, Brent thrives on her caseload of nearly 400 patients.
“Often, we see patients who aren’t knowledgeable about their mental health care,” she explained. “They come and see me once, and I will place them on medications. They begin feeling better, and they stop taking their medications. Then something occurs, and they come back again.”
That means much of her job involves education. “We teach our patients the importance of maintaining medication compliance and that the symptoms will return if you stop the medication.”
Many of her patients also have other challenges in their lives. “We do a lot to help people regain some kind of independence in society, in addition to helping them improve their mental health,” she said. “We connect them to food stamps or make them aware of food pantries and different housing programs.
“We see people who don’t have income; others have income but are underserved and don’t have benefits. We work with pharmacy partners to get them on drug programs to make medications available until they can gain insurance,” she added.
Brent is based at the Harvard Place Clinic, an outpatient clinic where they see people with chronic illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
She and other nurses care for residents of Haven for Hope, a facility in downtown San Antonio that provides services to homeless individuals and families.
An avid learner, she is working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Her capstone project for her doctorate is a study of providing long-acting injectables at the first onset of a schizophrenic episode rather than waiting for multiple relapses.
“Evidence shows that at the first onset of schizophrenia, probably 85 percent of the time, they will relapse off their oral medication or not go to a follow-up appointment,” she explained. “We want to start them on a treatment that will improve their cognitive function and help them engage in the services we have here.”
That treatment involves assisting with more than their mental health. Many have diabetes or high blood pressure, so stabilizing their psychosis can lead to improved physical health. Brent is implementing her project at the clinic to determine any barriers or outcomes the provider may have about using long-acting injectables earlier in the treatment plan.
“Our goal is to bring patients into our services and then educate them about their health care and establish them with other resources,” said Brent, who will earn her doctorate this summer.
She said having her doctorate will help her be “a leader in the health care field and within my organization so I can advocate, first of all, for my patients. Also, I can advocate for and mentor fellow nurse practitioners and continue to educate novice nurse practitioners and encourage them to be a resource in their community and in the mental health field.”