By BETSY TAYLOR
In an effort to support servicemen and women trying to overcome trauma and behavioral health issues, Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro, N.J., has a 21-bed program specifically focused on assisting active members of the military, veterans, military spouses and adult children of military families.
Robert J. Sposato and Tom Prin
The Living Springs at Lourdes program originally opened in 2012 to assist women in the military in need of inpatient mental health services. Last year, the program expanded to begin providing treatment for military men, military spouses, adult children of military families and veterans. The change in scope was motivated in part because it proved difficult to fill the beds when the unit was exclusively dedicated to military women. Robert J. Sposato, assistant director of military affairs at Lourdes Medical Center, said because women tend to be caregivers for others, Lourdes leadership thinks it may be harder for them to give themselves permission to take part in an inpatient program that may last 31 days, though stays may be shorter, based on a patient's needs.
Admitted patients have a primary psychiatric diagnosis of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder or bipolar disorder; patients may have a dual diagnosis, which occurs when someone has a psychiatric diagnosis and a coexisting problem with drugs and/or alcohol, hospital officials said.
Burlington County, where Lourdes Medical Center is located, is home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a military facility created when McGuire Air Force Base, the Army's Fort Dix and the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst merged in 2009.
The joint base is on more than 40,000 acres in Burlington and Ocean counties in New Jersey. About 44,000 military members and their families live on or near the joint base, according to the base's website.
With servicemen and women returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, as well as a number of veterans who served in previous wars settled in the area, leadership at Lourdes saw a need for services directed specifically at these populations, and their adult family members who may be struggling with behavioral health issues.
The staff at Living Springs at Lourdes includes a medical director, advanced practice nurses, nurses with certification in psychiatric and mental health nursing, an addiction counselor, social workers and a recreation therapist. Living Springs is one of three behavioral health units at Lourdes. The other two are its mental health unit and its short-term care facility. Living Springs at Lourdes, which is a voluntary program, says it receives some transfer patients from general psychiatric units when soldiers need longer-term care. It also says some of its patients have reported they have been transferred because they found it difficult to process their problems in a general psychiatric unit and felt a better cultural fit with people who understood military life, according to Joann Steeger, nurse manager for behavioral health at Living Springs at Lourdes.
Treatment consists of individual counseling and group work. The group therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy, the 12-step recovery process, guided imagery exercises, coping skills, behavioral modification, stress or anger management. Family therapy sessions are part of the protocol and an aftercare plan is developed for each patient, Steeger explained.
The population at Living Springs at Lourdes is one that Tom Prin can relate to. Prin, a certified drug and alcohol addictions counselor at Living Springs at Lourdes, is a Vietnam War veteran and retired New York City firefighter who responded to both World Trade Center bombings in 1993 and 2001. Prin, who says he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and sought counseling after his wife asked him to, said his combat and firefighting experience helps him establish credibility with members of the military, veterans and members of military families. "There is a mutual respect. They see me as the old soldier" with practical insights from his own life that can be helpful in understanding their experiences and in supporting them during their therapy.
Sposato said patients at Living Springs at Lourdes may be referred by the military for voluntary treatment there. Veterans and members of military families may seek treatment on their own. Women and men stay in separate areas of the facility, which is located inside the medical center. If a patient has experienced a sexual trauma, that will be discussed in individual therapy, though that person may be in coed group therapy.
Living Springs at Lourdes has treated about 280 patients since it opened, and has a goal of returning active military to active duty whenever possible, Sposato said.
Prin said the ever-present concern is that those who don't seek help will feel hopeless and consider suicide, but he said many behavioral health issues are "so fixable" when patients do seek assistance.
Sposato said: "This is something we put our heart, mind and soul into."
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