HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFNS) —
One of the first multidisciplinary medical operational support teams in the Air Force worked to reduce musculoskeletal and psychiatric problems in Hill Air Force Base.
The five-person team, consisting of an exercise physiologist, clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, physical therapist and strength conditioning coach, embeds with high-risk units for up to six months to achieve the desired results.
“What we’re really trying to do is look at the broader, long-term things that cause musculoskeletal and mental health problems so we can help the department make adjustments to prevent future injuries or mental health crises “said Bill Gownes, a specialist with the base operations support team”
Risk data collected by 75th Medical Group over the past year, identified high-risk units of the installation.
“We take the data and go to the leadership of the top unit pairs on the base and explain what we’re seeing and what we can do to help,” Goins said. “The departments were extremely receptive and excited to invite us.”
Once on the ward, the OST uses a four-phase approach to determine how best to help reduce musculoskeletal and mental health problems and establish in-house support when they move to the next unit.
The team works side-by-side with department members, in every section and every shift, to experience what Airmen experience on the job and build trust with them.
“We’re out there trying to build trust and break down barriers so that they give us concerns,” Goins said. “We assess a couple’s needs, work in their sections with them and find out what they want and need. Then we get to work helping the airmen”
During a recent embedding opportunity with the 75th Security Forces Squadron, OST noticed a lack of shoulder mobility from people wearing their required gear.
The team’s physical therapist made suggestions about what squadron members could do before putting on their gear and when they put their arms down to help reduce repetitive use injuries.
Goins said OST reduced lower back pain profiles by 75 percent during their time at the 75th SFS.
“When we went into the unit, their musculoskeletal profile risk and mental health profile risk was the 12th highest out of 82 security forces units in the Air Force,” he said. “When we left, they were 75 out of 82.”
An essential part of what the OST does is help the squadron build and expand what it can do without the team around and establish contacts where the team can return for support.
“We are developing the response team to optimize the squadron’s performance,” Goins said. “These are people in the unit so when we move on to our next location, those people can continue the good work after we leave.”
Gownes said the OST concept is important to the Air Force right now because instead of waiting for people to break, it faces it before the break happens.
“We do physically and mentally demanding jobs and people fall apart,” he said. “It’s not unique to the Air Force, it’s just people. I am excited for airmen to have access to these specialties and knowledge in prevention.
Every Air Force base is expected to have OST services within the next three to five years.
“Our goal is to make Airmen better for themselves, their families and the Air Force,” Goins said. “It’s an exciting thing, for sure.”