PETERSBURG, Va. — Military leaders and mental health care professionals came together Friday at Poplar Springs Hospital for the ribbon cutting on a new 32-bed expansion specifically for members of the armed forces.
The approximately $6 million project created a new 18,000-square-foot addition and 30 new permanent jobs. But beyond the economic benefits to the region, the facility will help those who put their lives on the line.
"This place saved my life," said Marine Sgt. Justin Bachaus. After three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Bachaus said that he realized he was suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. But he didn't want to ask for help because he realized the stigma of mental health disorders in the military is such that his leadership abilities would be called into question. Additionally, he said that while PTSD may be a set of negative "personality traits" in garrison — while deployed they're looked on as a positive skill set.
What eventually led to him seeking help was when he found himself sitting on the bed he and his wife shared with a gun in his hand prepared to commit suicide. Bachaus said that the only thing that held him back was knowing that his wife would have to clean up the mess and she loved the bed.
"I didn't want to have to put her through that," he said.
The call for help came after he had "been in the bottle" with alcohol addiction so long it had disrupted his digestive system to the point that he couldn't drink anymore. Doctors had prescribed him medications and he had begun abusing those too.
But with the stay at Poplar Springs, Bachaus said that he has his life back. Part of the difference he said was how Poplar Springs approaches treating individuals.
"They look at it from the perspective of mind, body and spirt," he said. That included traditional therapy techniques and yoga. "Can you imagine a fat kid like me doing yoga," Bachaus asked the audience drawing laughter.
Poplar Springs Hospital Chief Executive Officer Richard Clark said that the new wing was the development of a conversation he had with retired Col. Donna Diamond, a former commander of Kenner Army Health Clinic at Fort Lee.
Initially that started with a partnership between the two entities. Clark said since August 2008 that more than 1,000 service members have come through programs at the hospital from around the region, state and even the world.
Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Rodney Edge said the military has spent much time and research on ways to keep soldiers safe, including the development of items including combat gauze that helps wounds to clot more quickly. While the visible wounds of combat are easy to see, it is the invisible wounds — including traumatic brain injuries and PTSD — that are the hardest to treat, Edge said. "Unfortunately there is no single treatment, no combat gauze to treat these invisible wounds that our service members face every day," Edge said.
Delegate Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, said that she liked the design of the new portion of the facility as it includes a central nurses station — something she appreciates as a registered nurse. "I know a little bit about behavioral health because that's what my background is in," Dance said. She said that her career started as a psychiatric aide and worked part time at Petersburg Psychiatric Institute — what is now Poplar Springs — before it moved to its current location.
She said that with the renovated gymnasium that includes a yoga studio, it shows that the facility knows about a holistic approach to health care. "You can't treat one part without treating all of that person," Dance added. "You have come a long way since my days with PPI."
Edge said "we could not take care of our military members without civilian facilities like this one here." He added that the facility is both awesome and breathtaking.
The facility's commitment to hire veterans also demonstrates commitment to the military patients, Edge said.
Ground was broken for the facility in June 2012.