Rose garden visit results in new center

By ANTHONY WARREN,

DeAsia was being shown around the governor’s mansion after her birthday, when she asked First Lady Deborah Bryant if she could stop for just a few minutes in the rose parlor.

The teenager has lived for the last 10 years at the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital and wanted to soak in the silence, something she isn’t able to experience at a busy hospital. 

It was that experience that spurred Bryant to back the Mississippi Center for Medically Fragile Children.

The home will provide children like DeAsia with a place to do everything they’d do at home, from helping to bake cookies to taking in moments of peace and quiet.

After years of work, Bryant’s efforts are about to pay off.

Construction could begin this summer on the center, which will be located on seven acres south of near the state Research and Development Center in Northeast Jackson.

In 2018, the legislature passed a bill authorizing the state to lease land for the facility. And this year, lawmakers approved a $12.5 million allocation for the home’s construction.

“Every child should be given every opportunity to live his or her best life, no matter the circumstances,” Bryant said. “The Mississippi Center for Medically Fragile Children is important to me because I personally know so many families whose lives will be improved and the difference it will make in our state.”

The facility will be located at 3879 Eastwood Dr., next to the Mississippi Library Commission.

Plans for the home were still being finalized at press time. But according to the center’s website, the facility will feature 30 pediatric beds and be a minimum of 30,000 square feet, according to the center’s website.

Medically fragile children are patients who rely on technology, such as ventilators, to live, or require comprehensive medical treatment, said Kelly Julkenbeck, the first lady’s chief of staff.

The center will be home to permanent residences, as well as other children who need temporary care before going back home to their families.

“We have step-down rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes for adults. We don’t have anything like that for children,” Julkenbeck said. “This will provide transitional care, when (children) are well enough to leave the hospital but need more treatment, (or) the family needs more time to train with them. The facility will fill the gap.”

Four long-term patients who currently live at Batson will be transitioned into the home for permanent residency once it opens.

“We want to provide the best quality of life for children and families, if they have to live at the facility or get to go home,” she said.

The home will initially have 15 beds. Details are still being worked out, but plans are for it to be managed by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Batson hospital.

A certificate of need had already been approved for the facility.

Plans for the project will be finalized in the coming weeks. State officials are planning to visit a similar facility out-of-state to get a better idea of exactly how the center should be constructed to serve residents.

“We are working as quickly as we can to get all of that finalized, so we can start construction this year,” Julkenbeck said.

Construction had not been bid out at press time. Julkenbeck wasn’t sure what agency would advertise for a contractor but said it would be bid out under the state bidding laws.

Among amenities, the center will have a courtyard where patients and staffers can enjoy nature, as well as other amenities, including a kitchen, which are all designed to help children feel they’re in a home setting.

The center will also be served by a multi-use trail that will tie into the surrounding community.

During the 2019 session, lawmakers allocated $300,000 for the construction of the pathway, which will run from the existing LeFleur East Trail along Eastover Drive south to Smith-Wills Stadium and Jamie Fowler Boyll Park.

That trail will allow the center’s residents to interact with walkers and joggers, as well as take in sights and sounds of nature – a stark contrast to a sterile hospital environment.

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