By Jan Clark, Tripler Army Medical Center Public AffairsDecember 1, 2011
TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii (Dec. 1, 2011) -- The culmination of a year-long endeavor came to fruition Nov. 28 with a grand opening ceremony as Pacific Regional Medical Command's Tele-behavioral Health (Tele-Medicine) officially opened its doors here.
"This event represents partnership; between regional commands, local commands, facilities and providers of different disciplines; all working towards a shared common goal -- that is to provide behavioral health care to service members and their dependents throughout the Pacific and outlying distant areas using tele-health technology," said U.S. Public Health Services Corps Lt. Eduardo Cua, director, Tele-behavioral Health and Surge Support.
"It is hard to believe, but we live in the most isolated population center in the world. It is thousands of miles from the Hawaiian Islands to anywhere else. It is 2,400 miles from here to California. Japan is more than 3,800 miles away. To this isolation, add the fact that PRMC's (Pacific Regional Medical Command's) area of responsibility covers 52 percent of the Earth's surface," said Dr. Ray Folen, chief, Department of Psychology, TAMC. "Tele-health is not an op-tion for us. It is an absolute necessity."
In line with the Army chief of staff's directive to provide all Soldiers with behavioral health screening and treatment, redeploying Soldiers from the installation participated in a Virtual Behavioral Health pilot conducted in the fall of 2009. Through the pilot program, which divided into thirds for counseling options; face-to-face; high bandwidth video tele-conferencing, knowns as VTC; or low bandwidth Defense Connect Online, or DCO, it was discovered that these alternate means of reaching Soldiers were well-received with VTC encounters rating equal with respect to quality and acceptance.
The program is also effective in reducing barriers to care, stigma, travel time and costs; as well as improving health care outcomes. This pilot demonstrated the potential to streamline and improve behavioral health access for Soldiers by identifying symptoms and the risk of suicide and treatment options to improve patient outcomes.
"I want to thank General Jones publicly for his vision and his collaboration with the Western Region and the command there at the time and all the steps that it has taken for us to be able to say this is proof of principal and it does work. Soldiers (service members) like it. And that's a tough sell, because if you look at behavioral health and you look at the stigma that is out there, getting past the "what are you going to think about me is a challenge," said Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, commander of PRMC and TAMC.
Soldiers like it, and in many cases prefer it. The bottom line is that PRMC has a service to offer, a capability to provide. With every redeployed unit virtual tele-behavioral health is leveraged. It is available and offered to those service members who want to use it.
"Today, the tele-behavioral health cell is a robust operation serving Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as well as their dependents worldwide," said Gallagher. "In the Pacific, we offer care to Schofield Barracks patients, the TAMC community as well as Japan, Okinawa and Korea.
"In addition, the TBH cell has responded to the behavioral health needs in Alaska, Texas and Kansas and partnerships are being forged in the neighbor islands to support our Guard and Reserve components," he said. "We at TAMC and PRMC are proud to have here on the TAMC campus the means to meet the needs of our service members and their families during this critical time for the Army and sister services."