Delivering mental health care on target

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michael Bowman
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Life as a service member can be fraught with danger and exposure to multiple stressors.  For some, seeking mental health treatment can be potentially more distressing than anything they have ever encountered.     

An anonymous Air Force veteran said, “I’ve seen combat downrange, I’ve responded to car accidents where families had been brutalized by wreckage, I’ve treated children with life-altering burns outside of their blazing homes, but walking into the mental health clinic and admitting that I needed help was the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my career.”

To help improve the patient experience and accessibility of mental health treatment, the 17th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron’s mental health flight has implemented an approach that could potentially change the way mental health care is provided in Air Education and Training Command and across the Air Force.  

They are leading the charge as the sole behavioral health unit chosen by Lt. Col. Jeremy Pallas, AETC mental health branch chief, to pilot the Air Force’s targeted care program within the major command. It is designed to provide timely mental health care at the most effective level for all patients that enter the clinic.

“This new process of determining the appropriate treatment for our patients has drastically improved our ability to get service members and their families the care they need as soon as possible,” said Dr. Michelle Hanby, clinical psychologist, 17th MDG mental health element director, and acting 17th OMRS mental health flight commander. “We are able to more effectively utilize the resources available across the base to ensure everyone can get proactive treatment that best fits their unique situation.”

Since January of 2022, the 17th OMRS mental health flight has been implementing targeted care across the base.

“The targeted care program has been incredibly helpful, especially since we, as a nation, are facing a shortage of mental health providers,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Gilbert, 17th OMRS mental health flight chief. “Since we’ve implemented these practices, our wait times for new patients to make initial contact with a mental health provider has gone from over a month and a half, to no longer than 48 hours before we can see them in person. For someone in a crisis situation, that time makes all the difference in the world.”

The targeted care process begins when a new patient enters the mental health clinic. They are met by a technician as well as a provider to discuss their immediate mental health concerns. Working together with the patient, the care team determines whether to see that patient for specialized mental health treatment at the clinic, or to connect them with one of the many other mental health resources outside the clinic based upon which option is most appropriate to address the patient’s needs. Resources include Goodfellow’s Military and Family Life Counselors, chaplains, and providers through the Military One Source network. If the patient decides to seek an avenue of care outside the clinic, the provider ensures the patient is connected to the helping agency before their initial appointment ends.

“Targeted care has been the launching point for us to streamline a lot of the care we provide at the mental health clinic, and we’re already seeing results,” said Hanby. “Not only are we seeing more patients, but we’ve recently seen a nearly 400% decrease in numbers on the high-interest list, our roster of high-risk patients, as our patients get better.”

Targeted care is designed to expedite the patient intake process by replacing lengthy initial screenings with a single page triage form, allowing providers to target key areas of concern without delay. This methodology of intercepting and addressing problems before a patient’s mental health worsens into a more severe condition is one of the goals of the new targeted care system.

Goodfellow’s 17th OMRS mental health flight is leading the way in AETC and across the Air Force in providing an innovative and effective approach in providing timely mental health care. They are accelerating the pace at which patients are seen, while providing streamlined access to mental health care within the base and local community. The 17th OMRS mental health flight has demonstrated that they can overcome challenges related to manning and access to care by delivering mental health care on target.