FORT DRUM — Post officials laid out some of their future plans for bolstering the mental-health-care options available to soldiers, as they clarified information regarding a solicitation for an off-post clinic space.
Dr. Todd L. Benham, the post’s behavioral health chief, said one of the initiatives in the works would be the establishment of 13-person mental-health-care teams that would be paired with each of the post’s three brigade combat teams. The teams would include a variety of professionals, including a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner, therapists and social workers.
Col. Mark W. Thompson, commander of Fort Drum’s Army Medical Department Activity, said the teams would provide enhanced communication and collaboration.
The post is hiring 32 people for the new teams, with the final seven slots to be filled by reshuffling post staff. The post employs between 50 and 60 mental-health-care professionals.
A proposal in the works from the Army Installation Management Command would call for new buildings that would house the teams and other medical staff by next year.
Col. Thompson said the new teams would not affect the post’s main mental-health clinic, which would remain open for soldiers outside of the combat brigades, along with dependents.
Mental-health specialists are also being added to care programs like the Patient Centered Medical Home, where a small group of soldiers are paired with teams of doctors.
The efforts are in response to rising demand for use of services. Dr. Benham estimated about 4,500 soldiers came in last year to its clinics.
Col. Thompson said the demand is a sign of a reduced stigma of using mental-health services, an attitude fostered by division leadership.
However, both leaders noted the challenges of determining and keeping up with soldier demand. Col. Thompson said that if demand were to remain steady, the post’s current staffing allows it to accommodate only 70 percent of mental- health-care needs.
“It’s something we and the Army have struggled with,” Col. Thompson said. “The need keeps changing.”
Earlier this month, the Army announced that 38 soldiers had committed suicide in July, the highest monthly total since it began keeping records.
Col. Thompson compared soldier suicides with the hauling of 1,000-pound loads, as soldiers carry stress over time. As they carry those loads, Col. Thompson said the addition of an unexpected stress, such as a financial or relationship problem, could push soldiers to act impulsively to hurt themselves.
“It’s on us as leaders for us to identify that final load,” Col. Thompson said. “Not just the last pound, but the last few hundred pounds.”
Col. Thompson also spoke of the need to look at the long term care of soldiers, adding the current generation of soldiers may face decades of mental-health care, depending on the length of current engagements and any future conflicts.
Col. Thompson also clarified the status of a solicitation for an off-post behavioral-health clinic space within 15 to 20 minutes of the post.
The solicitation notes the space is to be ready by Oct.1, coinciding with the end of the post’s contract with Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for its behavioral health clinic on Coleman Avenue. The post first created the partnership in 2008 in advance of a deployment for the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Col. Thompson said that in addition to providing an additional care option for soldiers, an off-post location allows more privacy.
The post was interested in changing the contract to require filing through the Army’s emergency records system, and in making those changes, higher-ups within the Army’s regional medical command called for a new bid process.
Samaritan Medical Center is one of three bidders listed for the contract, and is joined by Aetna Behavioral Health LLC, Hartford, Conn.; and Material Integration Inc., Valrico, Fla.
Col. Thompson said that the decision on whom the post would partner with would be made by a contracting officer within the regional medical command, and not locally.
The full solicitation can be viewed at www.1.usa.gov/QzIZnZ.