VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg, home of Mississippi’s first Geriatric Psychiatric Unit

Published 9:00 am Friday, July 8, 2022

By Vera Ann Fedell | The Vicksburg Post

Did you know Vicksburg was home to the first geriatric psychiatric unit in Mississippi?

The 1990s was a reformative era for mental health care in the United States. In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Mental Health Amendment, a grant program that finically assists projects for health service research, demonstration, training and other matters for mentally ill individuals and children as stated in congress.gov. This helped states like Mississippi improve and create facilities for mental health. 

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On May 24, 1992, it was announced in the Vicksburg Evening Post that Vicksburg would be the first place to have a short-term geriatric psychiatric unit. 

The geriatric psychiatric unit had been granted permission by the Mississippi State Department of Health in 1991 but stated that Vicksburg could only have one such unit in the area. Both Vicksburg Medical Center and Parkview Regional Medical Center applied and presented their plans for the new geriatric psychiatric unit, but Vicksburg Medical Center ultimately won.

As stated in 1992 in the Vicksburg Evening Post, Vicksburg Medical Center renovated the West Wing of the third floor to form a 20-bed geriatric psychiatric unit. Since the new unit was located within a hospital, it had the added benefit of assisting patients that also have chronic health problems. 

Another feature that was used in the geriatric psychiatric unit, was two dayrooms that contained kitchenettes, sofas and chairs, televisions and videocassette recorders, according to the article written in The Vicksburg Post. The unit also provided a “seclusion room” for the times when a patient became agitated or medical staff may require a closer observation of the patient. 

It was assumed by many members of the community that the new geriatric psychiatric unit would be only helping individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the unit was intended for those 55 and older and their family members to cope with dementia which was often associated with aging.

The unit also provided aid to those suffering from depression, grief, anxiety and other mental illnesses, according to the May 24, 1992, Vicksburg Evening Post article. 

The unit was primarily designed for individuals that had first-time discoveries of their mental illness. By adding this geriatric psychiatric unit, it would be able to treat them immediately; however, the unit was not prepared for long-term use. These were typically three- to four-week treatment plans and six weeks for special treatment plans.

Overall, the unit was there to help community members regain some control in their lives and Vicksburg took the next step to make that happen. 

Currently, the geriatric psychiatric unit is no longer at Vicksburg Medical Center. At the time, the Vicksburg Medical Center was located where Promise Hospital of Vicksburg on North Frontage Road used to reside, before moving to the main Merit Health River Region building. Vicksburg still has a geriatric psychiatric unit, but it is now under Merit Health River Region. The treatments at Merit Health focus on creating a comfortable environment that helps patients and families navigate the process of aging.