Installation, deployable unit health aided by USAPHC health promotion officers

By Lyn Kukral, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 1, 2013

13th ESC health promotion forum
Col. Charles Kibben, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) rear detachment commander, leads the discussion during the 13th ESC's Health Promotion Forum, Jan. 20. Unit-level meetings contribute to the overall Community Health Promotion Council proc... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Army installations offer numerous programs designed to help Soldiers. To name just a few, there are programs to manage finances, get legal advice, readjust after deployment, or reduce (whether it's weight, alcohol consumption or tobacco use that needs reducing).

Installation commanders increasingly recognize that Soldiers and families often need help to get help. To make help more accessible, commanders are using their Community Health Promotion Councils, or CHPCs, to ensure that installation services are "integrated and synchronized," in the words of Kym Ocasio, program manager for U.S. Army Public Health Command's health promotion officer initiative.

USAPHC is designated by regulation as the Army's subject-matter expert for health promotion. To fulfill that responsibility at installations, USAPHC's health promotion officers facilitate the work of CHPCs. As well, health promotion officers link CHPC members and services to deployable units through Brigade Health Promotion Teams, BHPTs.

Ocasio and the health promotion officers in her program fulfill these dual functions by pulling together mission, medical and garrison health and wellness assets to holistically manage issues like work-related difficulties, marital and family problems, substance abuse and suicide risk.

"'Holistically' means that all the installation's health and wellness assets work together to make health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention services easily available and mutually supportive," she explained.

The "integration" of health and wellness services reduces stovepipes and duplication of effort among installation service providers. In other words, CHPC members each know what the others are doing to address an issue through information-sharing and referral.

"Through the vehicle of the CHPC, service providers pull together to create a healthy environment for the individual or the unit," Ocasio said. "They make sure smooth handoffs occur among members, and that everyone involved knows the goal and is working toward it."

Wendy Lakso, health promotion officer at Fort Hood, Texas, agrees that CHPC members working collaboratively at her installation have fostered communication and effectiveness among commands and service providers.

"Through the council, leaders at all levels to include service providers have been able to speak candidly about processes, policies and practices that may be beneficial or might need adjustment," she said. "The Fort Hood council has been able to recommend policy changes and streamline processes to be more effective while creating a stronger link between service providers and commanders."

USAPHC health promotion officers like Lakso also ensure that health and wellness are addressed in installation management plans and have specified goals and objectives. This is what Ocasio calls "synchronization."

"Synchronization is having a strategic plan for the Community Health Promotion Council that aligns with the installation plan and is linked to the commander's priorities," she explained.

Currently, there are 10 USAPHC-hired and --trained health promotion officers at Forces Command installations in the continental U.S. as well as seven in Germany.

In addition to their CHPC role, these health promotion officers also serve as liaisons for health promotion and risk reduction to Brigade Health Promotion Teams. These teams provide continuity in health promotion and risk reduction when the brigade deploys from its home installation.

"The health promotion officer liaison role helps align brigade needs with garrison and medical service providers and convey the interests of the brigade Soldiers and families to the council," Ocasio explained. "The HPO supports the Brigade Health Promotion Team, which is designed to provide early detection of risk through systematic surveillance, and implement timely and targeted responses to brigade needs."

At Fort Hood, commanders like Col. David Hill, 36th Engineer Brigade, appreciate the two-way communication role that health promotion officers fill.

"Our corps health promotion officer … has advised us on ways to integrate installation and Army-level resources into our health promotion efforts at the brigade and battalion," Hill said. "Wendy is in touch with the unique challenges of my brigade, and I suspect that is true of brigades across Fort Hood. Because of her knowledge and perspective, I feel confident that in her role as advisor to the III Corps commander and as a liaison outside the corps, she is able to articulate our specific challenges to policy-makers and advocate for resources that best fit our needs."

Lakso credits Fort Hood commanders with a sustained commitment to collaboration that has allowed their units to anticipate and address issues before they become major.

"Creating the structure for health promotion at the corps level has made an impact in bringing prevention activities to the forefront … for leaders across our installation," Lakso said. "[These] activities with the CHPC, brigades and agency leaders … have initiated a different way of doing business. We've moved from taking care of an individual or population after incidents to a proactive approach to holistic health and wellness. We're identifying potential risky behavior trends and looking at ways to implement programs to address those behaviors before they escalate."

In addition to the roles of informing, advocating and facilitating collaboration, HPOs like Lakso focus command attention on Soldier health and resilience across commands.

"The most important benefit of Fort Hood's HPO from my perspective is how well she helps me to see and understand the health and discipline of my brigade through the visualization tools she develops that indicate wellness trends relative to other units at the installation," according to Col. Mark Simerly, commander, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Expeditionary Support Command.

As well, Simerly said, health promotion officers pull in the many resources available on an installation to provide a more complete picture of individual commands.

"By bringing together the diverse service providers into a single forum, the HPO creates a robust network of feedback and sensors that enables commanders to make informed assessments about units and individuals, and better decisions regarding command climate," he said.

"The bottom line is, we receive a great return on investment from the HPO concept here at Fort Hood."

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