GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Thursday, Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport celebrated the opening of a new unit designed to help treat active duty military, veterans and retirees who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress and substance abuse.
Garden Park's new center is called the STAR unit, which stands for Stress, Trauma, Addiction and Recovery. And it's the recovery part that is everyone's final goal.
The clean lines inside the unit are simple. But the design is not just for aesthetics; It's for protection.
Renovations to convert the wing of the medical center's fourth floor began in June. It had to be turned into a psychiatric approved and safe unit, which means there is nothing in the area that patients can use to harm themselves – from the lighting fixtures to the hand rails in the hall.
The process to create this unit took an arduously long three years, but Garden Park CEO Brenda Waltz said it was worth the wait.
"I found out that PTS was an area that our service men were having to go outside the community to be treated, which is so unfortunate," Waltz said. "Those folks fight for us every day for our freedoms that we enjoy and we should be able to take care of them right here in their own home area."
It was also a celebration for retired Major. Gen. David Blackledge, who was guest speaker for the ceremony. While serving in Iraq, he was twice wounded: Once in a ambush and again by a suicide bomber. He, like many active duty servicemen or veterans, put off any issues as a normal decompression from service. But after 18 months, he finally sought help.
"Once I did seek help. it was like this big weight had lifted off my shoulders and I had support and it just made everything else so much easier," he said. "I didn't realize how much I was struggling trying to carry that burden by myself. Seeking help shouldn't be seen as a weakness. It's actually a strength to go seek help, and that's what my message is."
The unit is licensed for nine beds. Officials can't release the number of patients, but Waltz said already there have been several to have successfully completed the 21-28 day program.
To be eligible, active duty patients have to be referred by their primary care physician, and retirees must go through the VA.