Goldsboro, N.C. — A couple hundred people gathered in Goldsboro on Tuesday to celebrate the opening of a state mental hospital.
The $138 million facility, which was supposed to open three years ago, will replace the 197 beds in the old Cherry Hospital nearby with 313 beds for in-patient psychiatric care.
The old hospital was plagued by patient deaths and allegations of abuse and neglect, and it temporarily lost its Medicaid certification in 2008. Extensive staff training and education has taken place since then, and officials say the new hospital will have a completely different atmosphere.
The three-story, 410,000-square-foot hospital moves all care under one roof, including everything from a dentist to a gym to a barber, and is filled with natural light and art on the walls. It has separate wards for adults and children.
Gov. Pat McCrory said the new facility will serve as the anchor for mental health care in eastern North Carolina and as a centerpiece for his administration's push to bring mental health into the public conversation.
"We're going to bring this issue more out in the open and quit hiding this issue, recognizing that all of us have to deal with it together, because every one of us is impacted one way or the other, whether it be in our family, whether it be in our neighborhood, whether it be in our local hospital, whether it be in our local jail or state prison," McCrory said. "Mental health is no different from physical health, and we need to expose the issue and recognize the long-term impact it has on our communities and our state."
Hospital staff will move patients from the old Cherry Hospital to the new facility in the last week of September, and they will open new beds as they are able to hire the necessary staff for them.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Rick Brajer said the added capacity should reduce the backlog of patients waiting for long-term psychiatric care.
"What this represents is really a safety net," Brajer said. "This is for the folks that have the greatest need. We need increased capacity also in crisis beds in our communities. We also need increased capacity in community-based services."
Cherry Hospital Chief Executive Luckey Welsh echoed the need for more mental health services outside the hospital setting.
"The demand is so great," Welsh said. "You know there's more mental illness than there is diabetes or heart disease combined. Think about those numbers. It is huge."
This the second state psychiatric hospital to complete needed renovations. Central Regional Hospital in Butner opened in 2008.
The state's third mental hospital, Broughton Hospital in Morganton, was slated to be completed this year, but it too has been delayed and won't open until 2018.