State opens a Medical Needs Shelter in Wiggins

The Mississippi State Department of Health opened a state Medical Needs Shelter in Wiggins on Wednesday, the first day of the hurricane season.

The state-of-the-art facility is at 1640 Coy Ave., next to the Dean Griffin Memorial Airport.

Construction began on the $7.7 million shelter in 2014 and funding was provided through federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds and was made possible through partnerships with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, MEMA and other state and local partners.

Local, state and legislative officials toured the 23,416 square foot building Wednesday during the grand-opening ceremony.

The shelter is designed to withstand up to 200 mph winds. During an emergency or disaster it will provide medical support, shelter and refuge. The facility even has self-sustaining capabilities for up to 36 hours with a backup power source along with sewer and water. It also has an isolation room to prevent the spread of disease.

"Now, coastal residents with medical support needs can be placed in this shelter closer to home, which is a wonderful thing," said Dr. Mary Currier, state health officer with the Mississippi Department of Health. "We all learned how important it is to be as close as you can be so you can eventually go home."

She said the shelter could come in handy in other types of emergencies as well.

"When it floods, when we have hurricanes or even a pandemic, Southern Mississippi will be prepared," Currier said.

The shelter, which is one of a kind in the area will serve Mississippi and regionally.

"This $7.7 million facility represents the best medical needs shelter not in Mississippi but in the United States, and we are very proud of that," said Lee Smithson executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "Over 23 percent of Mississippians suffer from some type of disability, and it is a heartwarming thing to see that we put this much effort and time to make sure that our people with disabilities will be taken care of during a disaster."