News: Healing our nation’s heroes: Clinic offers health, wellness programs
Story by Pamela Jackson
ALBANY, Ga. - Maintaining health and wellness standards is mission essential for Marines, sailors and other service members. The Naval Branch Health Clinic at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany offers a variety of programs to help military personnel remain healthy.
Tucked away near the back of the clinic is an office packed with graphic health-related photos, brochures, pamphlets, posters, visual aids, fake food items and other resources available to help service members maintain their mission and combat readiness.
Patty Underdahl, health promotion coordinator, NBHC Albany, said in a typical day she focuses on tobacco cessation, healthy weight maintenance and healthy heart classes. She also helps military personnel, their families and other TRICARE beneficiaries with healthy eating plans, teaches them how to lower their cholesterol and offers multiple resources to assist smokers in their efforts to kick the habit.
“People are much more successful if they are not trying to get healthy or break habits on their own,” Underdahl said. “We have the resources and visual aids available here to help them achieve total wellness. We offer both group and individual sessions to assist with nicotine dependence, withdrawal symptoms, medications, nicotine replacement therapy and other resources to help them quit. I’m here to give them all the support and guidance they need because quitting is very difficult.”
Total wellness involves physical, emotional, spiritual and relationship health because each part interacts with the others, and while wellness is important in all of those areas, the single most important thing a person can do is to maintain his or her physical health, according to clinic officials.
“When a Marine comes in for a physical health assessment, I analyze their readiness,” Underdahl said. “They are required to fill out a questionnaire that asks them if they use health promotion safety belts, if they smoke, get enough sleep and are exercising regularly, among other things needed to assess their health. By looking at those computerized results, I am able to see what their needs are and design a program to help them meet their wellness goals.”
She said some Marines may need to lose or gain weight or need dietary guidance. Underdahl also receives referrals from health providers out in town.
“A lot of people think Marines do not struggle with their weight, but like everyone else, it can sometimes be difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight,” Underdahl said. “A mixture of daily stressors and fast food, which is readily available, sometimes can be problematic. Some Marines have injuries that prevent adequate exercise, but in order to stay in the military, [the individuals] must meet the minimum weight standards.”
Underdahl noted in American society, there is significant portion distortion, which makes it hard for individuals to realize they are over-eating, but her office has a lot of visual aids to help them relate to how much they are consuming.
“Many people do not know what a serving size looks like and everything has been super-sized, so when we go to a restaurant we get a plate full of food without knowing proper serving sizes,” she said. “Most of the time, if we do not get a plate full, we feel as though we are being jipped. In my classes, I discuss reading labels, what nutrients are in the foods and show patients what a serving size is.”
Underdahl said part of the clinic’s mission is to ensure military personnel are ready to deploy, so they also partner with the base chaplain for stress management and spiritual counseling and the staff at Daniels Family Fitness Center helps Marines with regular exercise regimens, if needed.
Seaman Apprentice Charles Brown, 19, a hospital corpsman, came to see Underdahl because he needed assistance with changing his diet. Although he admits he needs to gain a few pounds, it is more important for him to eat healthier.
“My diet consists of mostly fruit,” he said. “I found out that is not good for me and can cause various health problems in the long run such as dental problems and diabetes. I do not like to cook, but will either learn how to cook or find someone to cook for me.”
Sgt. Maj. Conrad E. Potts, sergeant major, MCLB Albany, said, Marines who fail to meet weight standards will be placed on the Body Composition Program to identify those who do not meet the standards. It gives the Marine Corps official notification when a service member is not within standards and must lose weight or face possible administrative separation from the service.
“Marines may be given several opportunities to get within the standards, but after the second assignment, if no progress is made [he or she] will be separated,” he said. “There is not a third assignment to the BCP program.”
Potts said Marines should refrain from tobacco use because not only is it an expensive habit, but more importantly, it is known to cause serious health risks such as cancer, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation and other respiratory illnesses.
Underdahl, a reserve Navy captain, registered nurse and department head of clinical services, said she loves her job and looks forward to working with her patients on a daily basis.
“It is very rewarding to have individuals I’ve helped come back to my office or stop me in the Commissary to say [he or she has] quit smoking or the dietary program I gave [him or her] actually worked,” she said.