By Scott Prater
The 21st Medical Squadron is about to take some of the hassle out of life for Schriever Airmen, their dependents and commanders as it stands up the Schriever Mental Health Clinic, culminating a near year process.
Heather Ramos and Charity Mattingly, psychology technicians, switched on the lights and studied their new surroundings Monday as their new co-workers welcomed them to Building 220. The SMHC team will be complete when a staff psychologist arrives in September.
“This is a big deal for Schriever,” said Lt. Col. Brent Sonday, 21 MDS commander. “It’s about creating access and providing services to our mission partners. The base populace will soon have a full complement of mental health services and a three-person team on site. We’ve never had that before.”
As it stands now, mental-health patients must go to the Peterson Air Force Base Medical Clinic for treatment and services.
“This is going to save a lot of travel and mission time,” Sonday said. “As much as half a day for each patient visit.”
Roughly 100 Schriever patients visit the Peterson clinic quarterly, but once it’s up and running, the SMHC will capture those patients. The new SMHC team will bring many additional benefits to the base populace as well.
“Squadron commanders will have the opportunity to get face-to-face interaction with mental health providers,” Sonday said. “We’re talking in general terms here, but they can walk in, find out how their Airmen are doing, ask questions and seek recommendations, all a short distance from their operations centers creating a one team one fight atmosphere.”
The new SMHC will stand up in a location formally occupied by the Schriever Dental Clinic check-in area inside Building 220. That’s something Sonday said was made possible by the superfluous efforts and resiliency of the 54-member 21 MDS.
“Kudos goes out to the Schriever Medical Clinic staff for making this happen,” Sonday said. “Through an innovative process, they created this space and then sacrificed by moving out of the former dental clinic check-in area. The area where the new mental health clinic will stand up has been vacant for six months. We couldn’t just set up the SMHC in there without knowing if we could make our medical and dental clinic work effectively in a smaller space. As it turned out, centralizing our patient check-in area was one big advancement toward that goal.”
Since its inception, Sonday said the focus of the 21 MDS has been to increase medical services at Schriever while decreasing mission time spent traveling.
“Like the pharmacy we stood up recently, the SMHC will provide an invaluable service at a much higher accessibility to our base members,” Sonday said. “The process began 10 months ago, when Maj. James Hanus, 21 MDS deputy commander, and Christopher Paino, 50th Space Wing human resource specialist, worked closely to formulate the proper documents that helped bring our two new psychology technicians to the team.”
Alternatively, the new MHC capability here should also relieve a backlog of mental health services at Peterson AFB.
“They’re not losing any staff, so that’s going to free them up,” said Capt. Christine Cox, 21 MDS support flight commander. “Right now, Peterson is not able to treat dependents in part due to that back log, but we’ll be able to treat Schriever dependents as soon as we open.”
The MHC active-duty psychologist will also support several wing efforts, such as the Alcohol and Drug Treatment, family advocacy and deployment support programs. And, the new MHC staff will also be on hand to conduct traumatic stress responses in the event of a unit death or other distressing event.
“Our staff members can go out directly to the squadron and help members of a specific unit better deal with a traumatic occurrence,” Cox said. “We offer that service now, but the responders must come in from Peterson.”
An opening date for the full complement Schriever MHC is still tentative, however Cox expects the new psychology technicians to provide limited services and support in the near future. They can be reached at 567-5858.