For close to 30 years, the inpatient psychiatric ward at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune lacked security and an environment conducive to healing. That all changed Monday.
Hospital officials took part in a ribbon cutting just hours before their first 11 patients moved into the new, state-of-the-art facility.
For roughly a year, Marines, sailors and dependents requiring hospitalization for mental health reasons have been sent to Brynn Marr Hospital where a combination of military and civilian staff treat patients prior to their discharge from the hospital. Now, Brynn Marr Hospital will be used as an overflow location if the Naval Hospital’s 20-bed ward is full or if a service member or dependent has a dual diagnosis, such as post-traumatic stress and substance abuse. With a staff of 25, including corpsmen, psychiatrists and nurses, the ward treats acute psychiatric emergencies such as depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and more.
“It feels good to actually help people,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Keaundra Thomas, 27, of Phenix City, Ala. “When people have a mental health problem, that is when they are most vulnerable. It’s one thing to have a broken arm or a broken leg, but you can help yourself in those situations. When you have a mental health issue you’re not really aware of what is going on, and you really need someone to step in and give you the help you need.”
Patients are taught coping and interpersonal skills as well as reintegration techniques. Thomas’ biggest hope, she said, is that what patients learn has a trickle-down effect and that they might help another Marine or sailor who is in distress.
“The hardest part of my job is seeing Marines and sailors in distress, knowing that once upon a time they were a really put-together person who could take care of themselves and their family,” Thomas said. “Having to take care of them is hard, because it could happen to any of us at any time if we are put in a stressful enough situation. It’s truly a reality check working here.”
After more than 10 years of war, Navy Capt. David Lane, the commanding officer of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, said the “burden” of mental health care has been continually growing and 12 beds just wasn’t enough. Because of the renovations, the use of Brynn Marr Hospital was a necessity, he said, or else Marines and sailors would have been sent across the state to receive care.
The relationship between the Naval Hospital and Brynn Marr, according to Lane, was better than he expected and it enabled providers to communicate prior to a patient’s discharge and ensure a proper hand-off to the commands. With active duty being a culture of its own, Lane said that keeping the patients close ensured there weren’t periods of shock going in and out of treatment, which allows for a more seamless transition.
“We want all of our patients, all 150,000 of them, to choose to come here,” he said. “In order to achieve that, we need to have all the services they need. We are providing a broad spectrum of mental health services, from traditional outpatient services to our new inpatient services. ...We have the resources for both acute and more complex mental health crises and now, with our new ward, we offer the full spectrum of mental health services.”
Centered around a nursing station, equipped with glass panes, every inch of the new ward is visible to hospital staff. That allows the staff to ensure that patients are not only engaged, but safe, according to Navy Lt. Jacqueline Lopez, the division officer for the inpatient psychiatric unit. For areas of the ward that are difficult to see, a camera system is being installed and, soon, a security system with alarms will be added.
“When a patient comes here because they have reached a point of needing admission, they are truly at a point of crisis,” said Lopez, 34, of Dallas. “We have to have an environment that keeps them from being able to inflict harm on themselves, all while maintaining that the staff is actively involved in their care.”
Under certain circumstances a patient may be involuntarily committed to the psychiatric facility, which in the Navy and Marine Corps is called a “Boxer Hold,” according to Lopez. The Boxer Hold is done as a last resort, she said, when a patient’s safety is genuinely at risk. For patients who are put on hold, Lopez said the staff is well-trained to treat them with compassion and care.
“We are now able to complement all of our current mental health services aboard the base,” Lopez said. “Because of the renovations, we are now a top-of-the-line mental health facility, and we increased our patient capabilities from 12 to 20. We are now able to care for even more of our beneficiaries, and this new environment is conducive to keeping them engaged in the care they deserve and have earned.”
Contact Daily News Military Reporter Thomas Brennan at 910-219-8453 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ thomasjbrennan.