8-bed geriatric psych unit unveiled at Baptist

The new geriatric psychiatric unit includes eight rooms with special beds, chairs, bathrooms, and weighted bedside tables. The creation of the unit added 20-25 new jobs at the hospital. Jessica Lindsey/Dispatch Staff

Eight new rooms sit unoccupied and ready for their specialized use at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. They won’t stay empty much longer.

In an effort to better serve elderly psychiatric patients for a short term stay, the hospital has created a new geriatric psychiatric unit on the fifth floor of the patient tower, which it formally unveiled Tuesday at an open house event.

Richard Freeze, Baptist Behavioral Health director, said the nearest geriatric psych unit is in Jackson so this will help those in the Golden Triangle and surrounding areas.

“These are resources in high demand in our state, and we just don’t have enough beds for these people,” Freeze said. “… The closest (geriatric psych unit) currently is Jackson, but I do hear there may be one soon in Tupelo. It’s a godsend that we’re able to provide for the geriatric population and be there on the forefront.”

The geriatric population includes individuals who are 55 and older with severe disability or 65 and older for the general population, Freeze said. Typical patients for a geriatric psych unit include those with dementia and behavioral issues at the local nursing homes.

Care differs from non-geriatric population because patients need closer monitoring and smaller patient-to-nurse, patient-to-tech ratio for more direct care, Ashley Blalock, head nurse of the geriatric psych unit, said.

“We have geri-psych down in our behavioral health unit, but even though we’re set up for geri-psych, it’s not the same as them having their own unit,” Blalock said. “It’s going to be much better for them when they’re able to come up here and get the care that’ll be available. … It helps by sometimes just getting patients out of the environment they’re in, and we get them stable. We get those medications stable.”

Freeze said the unit allows the patients to be in a safer environment for their stays, which are typically 10 to 14 days.

The new unit includes a weighted bedside table and chair in each room and a door within the normal door to ensure patients cannot barricade themselves in the rooms. There are also beds that raise about four feet and lower nearly to the ground with options to turn the switch off by nurses.

Nurses who toured the units Tuesday noted that because the beds can nearly touch the ground, it will help at night with the patients who may be at risk of falling off the bed.

Megan Pratt, director of marketing at BMH-Golden Triangle, said the unit was installed in the empty space built into the patient tower, which was specifically left to help expand for the hospital’s needs. The creation and construction of the geriatric psych unit took roughly a year to complete.

In addition to creating a safe place for geriatric psych patients, the unit is also creating new jobs. Freeze said 20 to 25 new positions have been added because of the unit.

Blalock said she is looking forward to working with other people who are enthusiastic to work in geriatric psych care and the new unit fills a previously unmet need for geriatric psych patients.

“Everybody that’s coming here, they have a heart for geriatrics,” Blalock said. “That’s always been a favorite population of mine, and everyone that we’ve hired feels the same way.”

The new unit is set to open soon, Freeze said but did not give a timeline.

“We’ll start taking patients very soon,” Freeze said. “Right now we’ve got a couple of little things we have to button up, and we’re waiting on some paperwork from the state then we’ll be ready to open.”

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