Ashley Adams ‘16 MOT had a passion for helping individuals with mental illness and made it her professional specialization. Then she realized there was more she could do. Now, she will.
On Jan. 15, Optimae Life Services, Inc., announced Adams would lead its newest division, Optimae Rehabilitation Services.
The division includes Iowa's first outpatient rehabilitation clinic specializing in occupational therapy services for adults and adolescents with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. Adams will not only lead the division, she will treat patients in their homes, in the community and at the clinic in Des Moines.
She is one of only a handful of occupational therapists in Iowa who specialize in working with individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. In addition, she is a vocal advocate for those individuals and the expansion of services, as a board member of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greater Des Moines and within her profession.
Optimae is a leading healthcare and human services provider, serving individuals with disabilities and mental illness in 36 counties in Iowa. This is the company's fourth division, and Adams played a leading role in its creation.
She began working as an occupational therapist in Optimae's Home Health division after earning her MOT from St. Ambrose. Her professional experience - combined with five years of volunteer service to NAMI chapters in the Quad Cities and Des Moines - helped her recognize a great need. That was for OT services to be accessible to all individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, not just to those who qualify for in-home care.
Adams proposed Optimae expand its therapy services, and learned the company had been considering something similar. "I just approached them a bit earlier than they had planned, and it all worked out," she said.
"It is important to understand there are limited resources available for adults and adolescents with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, and this is a whole new concept for the state. It will allow the individuals we serve to improve their mental health and overall well-being," Adams said.
Mental illness and intellectual disabilities can significantly limit an individual's ability to engage in daily activities that are meaningful and can lead to productive daily routines.
Occupational therapists address such barriers through interventions that restore or enhance existing skills, promote wellness, modify a person's environment or activities, and prevent relapse.
This can prevent an existing disability or condition from worsening and promote independence in individuals who otherwise would require institutionalization or long-term care.
Iowa ranks 46th in the nation for mental health workforce availability or individuals qualified to fill mental health job positions. Adams said NAMI Greater Des Moines receives several calls each day from people in crisis who don't know where to turn.
As an undergraduate student studying psychology at Iowa State University, Adams learned about the lack of services and the impact it can have.
As a graduate student at SAU, Adams knew she wanted to work with individuals with mental illness.
"I wanted to be the person who provided a place for people to go," she said.
She is proud to lead the clinic and provide much-needed services. "This is new to the state of Iowa and the OT world, and I am super excited about it," she said.
In the MOT program (now doctoral), Adams gained an education, and broad experience, working with individuals from every population. She said her clinical experience was great preparation for her career and for learning how to work as a team with other medical disciplines.
"Comparatively, SAU has a very holistic program that teaches us to look at the whole individual rather than a person's disability; to look at their environment, spirituality, caregivers, everything that makes that person who they are," she said. "St. Ambrose specializes in that, and it is great."