Redefining 'normal' mental health care still means delivering quality patient care

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Amanda Frampton
  • Air Education and Training Command Mental Health & DDR Functional Manager

During this time of uncertainty, it may feel like we’re being pulled in 500 different directions and asked to continue with our “normal” operations as much as possible and support other demands that are being levied upon us. 

Our Mental Health Technicians (4Cs) in Air Education and Training Command are redefining what “normal” is during the pandemic, while still delivering quality patient care in various different methods and providing Disaster Mental Health services when requested.

To maintain appropriate social distancing and to protect the health of our staff and patients, the majority of patient care has transitioned to telehealth.

The 4Cs are still conducting triages, assessments, and individual and group counseling sessions, and have rapidly adapted to utilization of a supported video-teleconference platform.  This allows for patients to still receive care during COVID and reduces the risk of contracting the virus. The technicians are completing the assessments over the phone or video platform having a provider complete the safety assessment and determine future needs. 

Along with most other career fields, the technicians have altered their duty schedules and shifts to best support the delivery of care and minimize the number of staff in the clinic at one time.

In addition to clinical care, 4Cs and Mental Health Providers across AETC have partnered with other support agencies to include Chaplains, Military Family Life Consultants, or MFLCs, and installation Violence Prevention Intergrators, or VPIs, to provide DMH outreach to units on managing COVID-19 stress and anxiety. 

  • At Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, technicians created distraction bags filled with crossword puzzles, word searches, jigsaw puzzles and other goodies to distribute to quarantined students to help pass the time while under movement restrictions. Technicians assigned to Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Lackland AFB, are also heavily involved with DMH visits to the Basic Trainee population. 
  • Technician teams conduct daily walkabouts with the quarantined trainees to check on their mental well-being. In addition to the latter, technicians continue educating trainees on how to recognize symptoms of depression and anxiety by teaching deep breathing and meditation techniques to help effectively manage stress.  
  • Many of our flights in AETC have put together newsletters and informational tips which leaders may distribute to their units on multiple avenues regarding how to curb boredom, managing stress and anxiety, remaining socially connected with maintaining social distancing and when to seek additional help.

Mental Health technicians are not only taking on additional roles within their flights but supporting the needs of the groups and wings they are assigned to. Many are performing in roles such as infection control monitors, securing appropriate donning/doffing of PPE. They also assist in screening stations, interviewing patients for symptoms of COVID 19 and confirming use of the proper level of protection is taken prior to entering the facility or when additional testing is required.

It’s a very difficult time right now and changes are rapidly occurring as soon as they are communicated; nevertheless, our Mental Health technicians are embracing changes while continuing to serve our populations with high-quality patient care in a safe environment.