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Hospital Happenings

News | July 20, 2023

Targeted Care increases access to mental health resources for Soldiers, Families

By Jean Graves, Medical Readiness Command, West

The Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Behavioral Health Department is participating in a pilot program to match individuals seeking care at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson to the appropriate level of support.

Lt. Col. Alexander Ragan, installation director of psychological health said the program is designed to increase access to care, reduce wait times for initial and follow up appointments, and increase Soldier readiness.

“Not all problems require medical intervention,” he said. “In fact, many problems can be resolved by making changes in personal behaviors, talking to a peer or supervisor, and seeking out non-medical resources. Talking to a military and family life counselor or one of our primary care behavioral health consultants is often a great step to helping a person resolve the problem.”

Ragan said the pilot program began May 1 and concludes at the end of October. Ragan works closely with agencies across the installation as part of the senior mission commander’s efforts to synchronize prevention efforts and raise awareness about resources at Fort Johnson.

“The commander’s ready and resilient council brings experts and professionals to the table to determine the best course of action to mitigate and prevent a variety of issues affecting Soldier readiness,” he said. “This includes behavioral health, the chaplain, suicide prevention, the sexual assault and prevention program, Army Community Service, family advocacy, health and performance programs, and other agencies to consolidate resources on behalf of Soldiers and their Families. The council’s aim is to create synergy and opportunities for collaboration.”

Capt. Kodi Humpal, officer in charge of the patient centered medical home, said there are behavioral health resources available in the primary care setting.

“We have licensed clinical social workers at the PCMH and Fontaine Troop Medical Clinic who are available to our patients without a referral,” he said. “Often patients come in because of symptoms that are a manifestation of stress related to their jobs, personal relationships, finances, or other non-medical reasons. During our intake interviews with them these outside factors often come up and we let our patients know that our primary care behavioral health counselors are available to them and may help alleviate some of the issues they are having.”

Humpal said the social workers in his department help patients develop skills that may reduce symptoms and improve their daily life.

“There are three distinct yet interrelated facets to our overall health,” he said. “Physical, mental, and social health are all important for optimal health and well-being. Our body’s ability to function normally, how we manage our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and our ability to interact and communicate with others are all interrelated. Taking a moment to talk to someone about what could be causing an imbalance in one or more of those facets can really help a person overcome illnesses, improve interpersonal relationships, and promote a higher quality of life.”

Lt. Col. William Sitze, commander, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Johnson, said,
“Our people are our battalion’s most precious resource, and we make sure they know we care about their mental health.”

“After a recent suicide event in our battalion the command sergeant major and I wrote and published the Buteaux Breakfast policy,” he said.
“On the second Friday of each month, after a 7:30 a.m. formation, every squad in the battalion goes to breakfast together to talk. They can discuss whatever they would like, the only requirement is that squads attend together and listen to each other. There is no physical or planned training activities to be conducted during Buteaux’s Breakfast. This is to help build our teams and give our Soldiers, NCOs, and officers the chance to really get to know one another.”

Sitze said it’s about being present.

“It’s critical that leaders and Soldiers are constantly looking out for one another,” he said. “By really getting to know our teammates we will notice if something changes, we can see if they are struggling with something and we are more in tune to their mental, emotional, and psychological health.”

Sitze said the goal is to build cohesive teams.

“We never want to lose Soldiers in our unit,” he said. “Everyone has issues, and we want our Soldiers to know, we care about them. If we cannot help them, we will get them the help they need.”

Sitze said the mental health continuum on the installation makes it easy for leaders to direct Soldiers to the most appropriate resource to address their issues.

“We also encourage our squads and leaders to invite chaplains, behavioral health providers, Military and Family life counselors or other installation assets to join them for the Buteaux Breakfast,” he said. “We cannot change the past, but in honor of our fallen comrade, we hope the legacy of his loss can create a safe and positive work environment where people feel comfortable asking for and accepting help when they need it.”

Capt. Christina Pierce, commander, U.S. Army Medical Company, BJACH, said she sees the value of the DHA Targeted Care Pilot.

“Every patient is an individual with their own unique medical needs and this program strives to provide personalized care to meet those needs,” she said.

Pierce supports and prioritizes the mental health needs of her Soldiers.

“I try to create a culture that values our Soldiers’ well-being through a variety of leadership styles,” she said. “As leaders we can create an environment that encourages communication, provides support, and resources for mental health, and values our Soldiers as individuals. This can lead to decreased stress and burnout, increased job satisfaction, and improved quality of life. It is important for leaders to prioritize mental health and well-being in the Army to create a healthy and productive work environment.”

Pierce said access to mental and behavioral health resources are important to Soldiers and their Families.

“We’ve learned that mental health support is more effective when it is part of a community,” she said. “Through regular open communication, mutual support, and opportunities to learn, we can strengthen cohesion, mental health, and ultimately readiness.”

Pierce understands that mental health is health.

“I like to refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” she said. “If we want our Soldiers to be optimally effective, their basic needs must be met. This means their physiological needs are met. They feel safe and secure. They have a sense of belonging or community so they can then focus on their personal and professional goals. Ultimately, they can reach self-actualization and hopefully live their full potential.”

Capt. Alexander Champion, a psychiatrist at BJACH, said our health is comprised of the body, mind, and spirit.

“Improved mental health will positively impact physical health, just as worsened mental health will negatively impact physical health,” he said. “Working on improving mental health can and does improve physical health, just as improving physical health improves our mental health. In this way, every thought and action directly impact overall health, however big or small.”

Champion said the military health system encourages and supports those in need of behavioral health services and the targeted care program has improved access to care for service members and their Families.

“Men are traditionally less likely to seek out behavioral health services due to perceptions of stigma, embarrassment, weakness, and mistrust,” he said. “But mental toughness can be viewed as resilience, confidence, self-control, purpose, commitment, reliability, character, and grit. It also means recognizing when you need help and then acting to seek help. The first step in making change of any kind, internal or external, is recognizing or noticing a need.”

Champion said for a person to have complete health, all facets of health must be addressed.

“Mental health has major impacts across all domains, from personal and family functioning, improved workplace efficiencies, to widespread positive impacts across the Army and society as a whole,” he said. “Focus on improving the small things, the things that you do every day: morning routines, evening routines, and everything between. Consistency is what counts. It’s not what you can do in one day, it’s what you do every day that matters.”

Ragan said, “No one will be turned away or denied specialty care that wants it. You will be able to schedule an appointment with the next available specialty care provider. Targeted care just allows providers to more efficiently use existing mental health resources to meet current demands. With targeted care, you will be connected to the most appropriate resource to support your needs. It will allow you to have the most effective course of care.”
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