The COVID-19 pandemic has altered all spheres of our lives. Leaders and Soldiers, from the 101st Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), had to learn how to overcome barriers brought on by the pandemic. Barriers such as sense of isolation, an increase in the unknown, and a sense of uncertainty can easily increase anxiety amongst even the most resilient. The diminished physical and social connection between Soldier
s, families and their units posed a new challenge, not only for the individual Soldier but also for leadership. These challenges were identified by the Embedded Behavioral Health (EBH) team who assisted leadership at all levels in overcoming these novel situations.
Setting the Standard
The Lifeliners’ Embedded Behavioral Health Team, responsible for delivery of behavioral health services, quickly identified steps to overcome potential vulnerabilities to readiness. Further, the Behavioral Health Officers identified alternative means to work with Leaders, Soldiers, and units while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
The EBH team effectively shifted the modality of care from face-to-face encounters to telephonic sessions, which evolved into virtual telehealth sessions. The EBH team rapidly developed standard operating procedures to deliver effective top-notch care via phone and virtual platforms during the increased demand for behavioral health services (See Table 1 and Table 2). This seamless shift allowed clinician to continue care without disrupting the services. Further, special care was placed on maintaining continuity of care for Soldiers who were considered high risk and needed closer monitoring. Evidence-based treatments continued to be implemented, and the EBH team sustained excellent quality of care by capitalizing on, technology, teamwork, and continued interdisciplinary consultation between clinicians and leadership.
The EBH team consulted with leadership on implementing effective communication and messaging regarding behavioral health wellness in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through close monitoring, the EBH team was able to advise command teams on best practices to maintain connection with soldiers who were adhering to the stay-at-home order while also identifying Soldiers who were vulnerable to isolation. To combat the growing sense of isolation, command teams were advised to utilize virtual platforms to connect with Soldiers. This in turn enhanced Soldier’s sense of belonging, which is a protective variable against decompensation. Leaderships’ involvement continued to be the driving force behind reduction of Soldier’s sense of isolation, which is often associated with negative behavioral health outcomes.
Leadership was advised on focusing and controlling what is controllable and modeling this to their Soldiers. For example, 74th Transportation Company, 129th Division Sustainment Support Battalion developed virtual PT sessions while other sections implemented virtual training sessions, and even a virtual “run-opoly” running challenge. Through virtual platforms, leadership extended opportunities for self-development and enhancement, like the financial resource classes led by Maj. Sitara Buckner. Soldiers also focused on self-development through engagement in college education.
The EBH team emphasized continual communication between command and clinicians. The intent of communication was to deliver information on self-care, both for leadership and soldiers. Emphasis was also placed on delivery of messages that encouraged social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All, Company Commanders received resources on appropriate self-care and early identification of Soldier’s with a need for further support.
To increase operational readiness, the EBH team emphasized collaboration between sections. For example, the EBH team collaborated with the Public Affairs Office, along with the Unit Ministry Team to deliver several public service announcements related to coping and stress management. The messages focused on practicing social distancing, coping skills, healthy behaviors, and an overall holistic approach to management of stress, anxiety, isolation, and fear associated with the pandemic.
Being cognizant of the danger, the Lifeliners’ behavioral health technicians continued to be present for crisis interventions, while modeling socially responsible behaviors in the time of this pandemic. The embedded Behavioral Health Officers supported the Quarantine and Isolation Node, by serving as the on-call providers for Soldiers who experienced distress while quarantined. Finally, the EBH team assisted not only 101st Div. Sust. Bde., but the division through providing psychological assessment to Soldiers across the division.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved a very unique set of challenges that has resulted in sweeping changes across the installation and within the EBH Clinic. The Behavioral Health Officers and the Lifeliner Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic has risen to the challenge and exceeded the standard in continuity of care for Soldiers and maintaining the fighting force. The above mentioned steps will continue to be implemented. Further, the EBH team will continuously work on delivering evidence based interventions to ensure readiness and lethality of our fighting force.
Capt. Kate Williams is a Behavioral Health officer in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Sustainment Brigade. She holds a doctoral degree (Psy.D) in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology (ISPP). She completed AMEDD Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Sam Houston and her Clinical Psychology Internship and Residency at Tripler Army Medical Center and Schofield Barracks.
Capt. Grzegorz Liberadzki is a Behavioral Health officer in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Sustainment Brigade. He holds a doctoral degree (Psy.D) in clinical psychology from the Adler School. He completed AMEDD Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Sam Houston, his Clinical Psychology Internship and Residency at Eisenhower Army Medical Center and Fort Campbell, AMEDD Captain Career Course and Air Assault School.