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DGMC's 'Penthouse' tackles mental health issues

The interdisciplinary treatment team evaluates a patient for treatment Oct. 17 at the medical health clinic. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

The interdisciplinary treatment team evaluates a patient for treatment Oct. 17, 2011 at the medical health clinic at Travis AFB, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Acute mental health issues are not subjects that fall into normal daily discussion across the Wing. However, tucked away in a quiet corner of David Grant USAF Medical Center is a state-of-the-art mental health unit where these issues are confronted and overcome.

Every day, including weekends and holidays, day and night quality mental health care is being provided to active duty members from all services, their dependents and our retired members receiving Veterans Affairs benefits.

For anyone who has entered DGMC's Joint Inpatient Mental Health Unit - nicknamed "The Penthouse" due to its outside view of Travis Air Force Base -- these stereotypes quickly fade away to reality.

That reality is a professional joint Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs unit led by a seasoned staff of active duty and VA nurses, technicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Every patient receiving care in the JIMHU is given a variety of individualized treatment modalities, all with the goal of bringing the individual back to a state of wellness and functioning.

Patients receiving inpatient treatment on a daily basis meet with their treatment team and are given the opportunity to take part in deciding the course of their treatment. They are also given the opportunity to touch base with their mental health providers assisting in this process.

Patients are regularly provided with one on one therapy by our licensed clinical social workers, psychiatrist and psychologists. Dietary and nutritional needs are closely followed by nursing and dietary staff, and occupational therapy ensures that basic, real-world functioning is assessed and maintained during the course of a patient's stay.

The nursing staff ensures the safety and smooth functioning of the JIMHU on a 24/7 basis, using years of clinical knowledge and experience in mental health nursing. In the rare instance that a medical complication should arise during the course of a patient's treatment, any one of the many specialties housed within DGMC can be called upon to provide expert care.

During a recent inspection by the Joint Commission, a not-for-profit organization that accredits over 19,000 health care organization and programs in the United States, the JIMHU was rated as a leader is safety and treatment. "The goal is always to provide industry-leading treatment," said Lt. Col. Brenda Waters, 60th Inpatient Operations Squadron JIMHU flight commander. "But we also have a war-time mission to consider and execute, such as creating a relevant training environment for Airmen to learn the skills needed to provide mental health care in the combat environment."

According to Waters, any individual needing care may not be in an ideal mental or emotional situation, however, for every patient necessitating care will uphold both the mission statement of the Air Force and this unit, "to provide effective, comprehensive and compassionate treatment to all eligible beneficiaries needing our acute mental health care," Waters explained.

"Our goal of empowering our patients, allow them to achieve their personal goals and full potential, enabling them to live meaningful, satisfying lives in their communities', family and work settings is what's important," Waters said.