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December 2023

Read the original article from Worcester Business Journal

As a psychiatrist with Worcester nonprofit Open Sky Community Services, Dr. Sarah Langenfeld works with complex patients to provide them care inaccessible and unsustainable through other models.

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In her role as a member of the assertive community treatment team, which provides treatment to members of the community with serious and persistent mental health challenges, Langenfeld gets to address deficit areas in the healthcare system.

“It really is an opportunity to provide excellent service and care to people in a system that faces so many challenges and shortfalls,” Langenfeld said.

Langenfeld bio box

Langenfeld bio box

In a system that lacks in many areas, the program at Open Sky is designed to not let people fall through the cracks, said Langenfeld.

Langenfeld realized she was interested in a medical career in a social service position while working with the homeless population in a shelter environment.

The community-based psychiatry Langenfeld provides is different from traditional models in its approach to meeting clients where they are, physically. Langenfeld provides treatment wherever patients want to receive it, whether that be in a traditional office setting, at their home, at a community center, or in the parking lot outside. That approach helps patients stay in treatment, and Langenfeld learns something personal about those she is treating.

“It allows me to see a piece of them I wouldn’t otherwise,” she said.

For those who are severely afflicted with mental health challenges, their needs are different than those who might seek psychiatric help, said Langenfeld. The treatment has to be tailored to the knowledge and understanding that accessing and maintaining care can be difficult for that population, including individuals with schizophrenia and those experiencing psychosis.

“It’s explicitly focused on building trust. Without that piece of the approach, we don't really get anywhere,” Langenfeld said.

To do this kind of work, and to do it well, requires a deep knowledge base and a deep sense of humility, said Karen Duby, vice president of behavioral health at Open Sky.

Langenfeld embodies that, she said.

Duby describes Langenfeld as compassion in action. Langenfeld has the knowledge base and expertise to treat patients, but also the collaborative nature and commitment to the work.

Her demeanor allows Langenfeld to be effective in delivering treatment filling a void in the system and the community, and she impacts individuals and their ability to live independently. She is an invaluable asset to those needing this kind of support, said Duby.

Langenfeld met patients wherever they needed her even during the coronavirus pandemic when access to care was curtailed across realms of mental health treatment.

This treatment approach Langenfeld follows with patients is a wraparound style, involving psychiatry, clinicians, nurses, case managers, and peer support. It’s not a method achieved with one practitioner at the helm, but rather needs the full support of the team. Langenfeld sets herself apart as a physician by seamlessly taking on a team role, something that cannot be taken for granted as a physician, said Duby.

“It takes a special kind of physician to do that work,” said Duby.

The field of mental health has changed in the past years to better center the individuals receiving treatment and their needs and wants, said Langenfeld. That change has involved the recognition that patients should be guides in their own treatment and recovery, and their voices should matter.

It makes the work more appealing for Langenfeld, too.

“It’s a positive change to know people's wishes and be able to honor them,” said Langenfeld.

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