VA Connecticut Healthcare System celebrates new psychiatric ER in West Haven

WEST HAVEN — VA Connecticut Healthcare System officials were joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Monday to celebrate the dedication of a new, $10 million Psychiatric Emergency Room in the VA’s West Haven Campus Building 2.

The 11,910-square-foot emergency room, adjacent to the hospital’s main entrance, will soon replace a much older Psychiatric Emergency Room located nearby. Officials cut a ceremonial ribbon to celebrate its opening on Monday.

The hospital will move operations from its old psychiatric emergency room next week, officials said.

“The new Psychiatric Emergency Room here at the West Haven VA is really a state-of-the-art emergency room for our mental health patients, and mental health is really one of the core foundational services within the VA,” said Gerald F Culliton, director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System .

“Many of our veterans come and start out here, and we need a really beautiful, comfortable place for them to for them to want to be welcome to,” Culliton said.

“The staff here is very excited ... There’s nothing like this within the VA and there’s not much like this, even, within the public and private sector,” Culliton said. “So we are excited and proud and really ready to take care of our veterans in this brand new space.”

The new facility will “be the landing spot for veterans who are suffering from deep mental illnesses, who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder reactions, suicidality, maybe veterans who are misusing opioids or other substances,” he said.

Patients “can get to us through primary care, through the vet centers, through other social services, or they can walk right in to the VA hospital and come right to the psychiatric ER,” Culliton said.

“So, it’s a welcoming place to take care of, really, our most vulnerable veterans,” he said.

“The people who come here ... are in crisis” and will benefit greatly from having a newer, larger and more comfortable surroundings, said Dr. Ismene Leonida Petrakis, chief of psychiatry for the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

“This is a beautiful new facility that promotes a healing environment and is an upgrade from our previous psychiatric emergency room,” Petrakis said.

Dr. Brian Fuehrlein, director of the Psychiatric Emergency Room, said the new facility is complete in two out of three zones, with a third one still under construction.

It will be “an upgrade to what we have,” with the same capacity but larger, more private facilities and a number of safety upgrades, Fuerhlein said.

The Psychiatric Emergency Room is a point of entry for many veterans who are suicidal and suffering from a variety of psychiatric problems, including psychosis and opiate or other drug abuse, he said.

The old facility “is not a healing environment,” and “this is extremely different,” Fuehrlein said.

Among other things, the new Psychiatric Emergency Room is “more female-friendly,” and better “for the people who are staying more than a few days,” said Keiko Thompson, the Psychiatric Emergency Room’s nurse manager.

Blumenthal told VA staff that whatever the national VA’s overall problems might be, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System clearly is doing something right.

“You have an approval rating of nearly 100 percent,” Blumenthal said. “You are appreciated by our veterans for the quality of care” they receive.

“I want to say to every clinician, doctor, nurse , staff member who works in this building, thank you for your service to our nation, and thank you particularly to those who will work in this facility,” Blumenthal said.

“You will...literally save lives,” he said. “You will save the lives of our nation’s heroes.”