By Ben Sherman, Fort SillMay 30, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (May 30, 2013) -- The Army Public Health Nursing program at Reynolds Army Community Hospital covers many areas of health education and disease prevention. From tobacco cessation therapy for Soldiers, dependents and civilian workers; to providing medication education and training for teachers of children in the Child, Youth and School Services facilities, the Public Health nurses cover a wide range of health concerns on post. One of the most pressing is communicable diseases, especially sexually transmitted diseases.
Capt. Anita Ayers, Army Public Health Nursing interim chief, knows all too well how critical these health issues are for the Fort Sill population. As an HIV-sexually transmitted infections educator at RACH, she began seeing a rise in the number of Soldiers on post who had serious health issues several years back.
"The commanding general at the time, Major General [David] Halverson, signed an education order stating that all units on post would have HIV and STI education once a year. I took over the program in December 2011, and we noticed our rates were pretty high," said Ayers.
"That's because people weren't coming in to RACH to be tested, or if they did get tested, they were going downtown to the public health department. So we didn't have really good numbers on how our Soldiers and their family members were doing with the STD testing."
Ayers added Comanche County consistently ranks in the top three in the state of Oklahoma for STD incidents, behind Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
"Health officials have identified Fort Sill as a large portion of Comanche County's high STD rates. For our population size, that is not good," she said.
Ayers knew specific actions needed to be taken. After analyzing the situation, she suggested to RACH leadership that a preventive clinic be established that would bridge across all of the Family Medical Home clinics at the hospital. Now that system is fully functional in the Preventive Medicine Outreach Clinic.
"We now provide a nurse who does all of the STI education and training that is needed for the Family Home clinics, to take those patients out of the clinics. That allows the care providers and nurses to see the acutely ill patients, and not deal with patients who come in just to get STD tests," Ayers said. "It is a one-stop, walk-in shop and it frees up appointments for the clinics as well. We do the testing that is needed, and if patients are showing symptoms at that time we provide the treatments. We also do all of the follow-up calls with their test results, positive or negative. If their results come back positive, we have them come back in for treatment."
Ayers said that even with a dedicated preventive health clinic, Soldiers still don't seek out testing and treatment like they should. She believes they are afraid their commanders will find out and they will be punished, but that is not the case.
"We do not report the names of those tested to commanders. The only thing the commander has to know from us is if a Soldier is HIV positive. For the other STDs we report the number of cases to the commanders, so we can then go to the units and provide additional education," she said.
"It's amazing how little these young Soldiers know about sexually transmitted diseases. We often think they learned all about this things in health and sex education classes in high school, but a lot of people coming into the Army don't know this stuff. They think that syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, chlamydia and other diseases won't happen to them, but it can and it does. These diseases can be transmitted even through oral sex," Ayers stated. "For example, I had a Soldier in here last week who had eight sex partners in three months. I asked him if he saw a problem in having that many partners in three months, and he said 'No.' He didn't think there was a big risk. He also didn't use protection with any of those partners."
Ayers said her staff tries to do everything they can to educate Soldiers, family members and others at Fort Sill about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
"We have developed the ABC principles - A: practice abstinence, but we know that is not going to happen very often, so we encourage step B: be faithful to one partner. And above all, step C: use condoms. We try hard to get that through to them." Ayes added, "All of our patients should remember that we are here, and available to help them; that our clinic is on a walk-in basis; and that everything we do here is confidential."
For more information about the Preventive Medicine Outreach Clinic, call 580-442-2061 or 558-3360.