Biloxi VA set to move into expanded psych ward

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi Veterans Affairs officials said veterans suffering from extreme mental illnesses need a place they can feel safe and get the help they need. On Tuesday, the behavioral health staff will start moving into a brand new building. The addition includes an expanded psychiatric wing, which will allow the VA to accommodate more patients.

The acute psych unit inside the brand new building is currently empty, but Biloxi VA officials said future patients will be those in need of immediate mental health treatment.

"For people who are in imminent risk of harming themselves or others or they feel really out of control in that moment in time," said Linda Cox, supervisory psychologist. "Maybe they're depressed or really really anxious. Maybe they have a severe mental illness and they're hearing voices or seeing things. An acute psych is a unit to help them get stabilized, to feel safe, to get their medications regulated."

VA officials said they've hired two additional psychiatrists to work in the new wing, which will keep the doctor-to-patient ratio low and increase the amount of therapy veterans receive. Also, the new wing is designed to make patients feel more comfortable.

"There's lot of sunlight. There's lot of space," said Cox. "The furniture is aesthetically pleasing. There's more therapy spaces. There's access to fresh air where they can get some sunlight and fresh air."

Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Director Anthony Dawson said, "The facilities are new, and when you have newer facilities, you are able to do more things. The bed arrangements will be a little different, so it's bringing me into the 21st century versus where we are in our current location."

With the new location, the Biloxi VA will increase the number of beds in its psych unit from 22 to 32 beds.

"When someone needs acute psychiatric treatment, they need it right then. So going to 32 beds will really help us accommodate those needs immediately without having to hold patients in the emergency room, without having to send them to another VA for treatment," said Cox. "It will also help them because they'll be in a more spacious therapeutic environment that will help them feel better."

Biloxi VA officials said the design of the new psych wing also includes more private rooms than the current location. Last year, about 6,000 people went to the Biloxi location for some type of mental health services.

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