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Construction begins on replacement for troubled mental hospital

Posted October 1, 2010

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— Gov. Beverly Perdue and other state officials on Friday broke ground on a new state mental hospital in Goldsboro.

The three-story, $138 million hospital, which will replace the aging Cherry Hospital, will employ 1,000 people and have 316 beds and outpatient services to serve patients in 38 eastern North Carolina counties. It is scheduled to open in March 2013.

"It's not just to have a new building. It's to have improved and better services for the people we serve," Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler said.

Amid the fanfare of the groundbreaking ceremony, an advocacy group called on Perdue and state lawmakers to halt construction on the hospital and reallocate the money for community services for mentally ill people.

"The building of this hospital doesn't do anything to address the current mental health crisis," said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disabilities Rights North Carolina. "It doesn't reduce the long waits for people in emergency rooms. It doesn't prevent people from going into crisis in the first place.

"It's not that the facilities at Cherry aren't old and need to be replaced," Smith said. "Rather, it's that (state officials) aren't paying the same amount of attention on community-based care."

The new Goldsboro hospital will be the second of three psychiatric hospitals to replace aging state facilities. A new mental hospital in Butner opened in 2008, and work to replace Broughton Hospital in Morganton will begin in 2011.

Smith called the construction effort "fiscally irresponsible," but Perdue said the new Cherry Hospital is needed, noting that Cherry "is falling down around us."

"There are always going to be people in institutions in North Carolina," the governor said. "If we're going to have institutional care, we need to have our patients in institutions that are decent, that are safe and that can provide caring and rehabilitative treatment."

Smith also maintains that Cherry has had problems finding enough staff in the past and suggested that it might be better to build a new facility somewhere else Perdue said that it's important to keep the hospital in Goldsboro for patient access and jobs, noting it would create 650 construction jobs in Wayne County.

Cherry Hospital has been plagued in recent years by charges of patient abuse and questionable deaths.

In 2008, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services revoked the hospital's certification, costing it an estimated $8 million to $10 million in federal funding as a result.

Rendering of new Cherry Hospital Troubled mental hospital to be replaced by new facility

The federal agency reacted after the death of Steven Sabock, a 50-year-old patient who choked on his medication, hit his head and was left sitting in a chair for 22 hours, unattended and without food. Surveillance video shows employees playing cards and watching TV a few feet from the dying patient.

In the wake of Sabock's death, an entire ward was shut down, the hospital's director resigned, and consultants were hired to retrain staff. Cansler instituted a zero-tolerance policy toward employees found to have abused or neglected patients.

The zero-tolerance policy has been tested this year by the firing of Cherry Hospital worker O'Tonious Raynor, who hospital officials said used excessive force against a schizophrenic patient who punched him. In an appeal, Administrative Law Judge Joe Webster issued a preliminary opinion agreeing that Raynor used excessive force but said he should have been suspended, not fired.

Smith has said that hospital handled the situation correctly.

"We support the firing, and we support Secretary Cansler's zero-tolerance policy of abuse," she said.

Cherry Hospital nearly lost federal funding again this year after a March incident in which a mental health technician dragged a 22-year-old patient and covered his face with a pillow to keep him from spitting while staff tried to restrain him.

Federal authorities found that the hospital violated patient safety by allowing the same staff member to continue to care for the same patient for 19 days after the abuse allegations were reported.

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  • mulecitybabe Oct 1, 2010

    What really need to be replaced are Bev Perdue, Lanier Cansler, and the entire management team at Cherry Hospital. These are 3 of the biggest obstacles to proper mental health care in the state. None of them have a clue what mental patients or the staff that care for them have to endure.

  • nic Oct 1, 2010

    Small hospitals in each county.... what a great idea. Too bad our leaders can't figure that out and won't listen to our ideas.

  • nic Oct 1, 2010

    Reading some of these comments it makes it sound like Dorothea Dix Hospital is closed. Just to inform everyone Dix is still open and planning to close at the end of December. You think it is bad now just wait. Closing 200 beds and moving all those patients to Central Regional and Cherry where they are very understaffed is crazy. Many of the Dix employees will not be transferring to these hospitals an hour away or more. There are already long waiting periods and it is only going to get worse. Get ready to see a lot more homelss in Wake County

  • lisa4 Oct 1, 2010

    AMEN REV. RB!!! I AGREE. I HAVE HAD ONE BROTHER A CHERRY HOSPITAL AND I HAVE ANOTHER BROTHER HEADING THEIR IN ABOUT 18 DAYS. I THINK EACH COUNTY SHOULD HAVE A FACILITY. WHY SPEND ALL THAT MONEY ON A NEW CHERRY HOSPITAL WHEN IT COULD BE DISTRIBUTED AMOUNG THE COUNTIES TO OPEN AND STAFF A SMALLER FACILITY? GOD BLESS THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AND GOD BLESS THEIR FAMILIES.

  • beachboater Oct 1, 2010

    From what's been written in the Goldsboro paper, Cherry is very understaffed. There is no way the staff can handle the violent patients. Staff are constantly assaulted, and are not allowed to protect themselves.

    BTW, Guv'na Dumplin - - - - Where is this money going to come from with a projected $3 BILLION deficit? Any tax increase to cover this would be a crazy tax. Not because of the use, but because we are already taxed higher than anywhere in the southeast.

  • carolinaprincess62 Oct 1, 2010

    Rev. RB, no disrepect but many of these people don't have families. Many of these people are discharged to rest homes and family care homes in which case they are often housed with the elderly. Guess what happens? The elderly often get hurt. Yes, patients at Cherry have gotten hurt but so have the staff there. There isn't enough staff. Too much money was spent on the mostly useless community LME's where a lot of those workers have high school diplomas and money was taken out of the budget to provide enough staff for the psychiatric hospitals. IF you have never worked in that environment or been a patient in that environment or had a family member in that environment, you don't have a clue what really goes on. It's hard and dangerous work. Patients are discharged too soon to community based LME's that can't follow them like they should.

  • Adelinthe Oct 1, 2010

    aliput5 - "There is a need for more psych units in hospitals and more smaller psych hospitals. NOT these huge institutional facilities we have in NC"

    AMEN, AND AMEN!!!

    Because we can no more effectively "police" these mega psyche hospitals than we can "police" the mega schools.

    We need to go back to community-based facilities so these people can be properly sheltered and cared for, and so, if they have friends and relatives, patients can be loved and comforted in having them nearby - not 50 miles or more away.

    God bless.

    RB

  • Adelinthe Oct 1, 2010

    There are more mentally disabled now than ever before, because there are more people now than ever before.

    And I believe the mentally disabled need to be near friends and relatives who care about them.

    There should be good certified mental facilities in every single county in a state.

    Without these things, we're still subjecting those with mental illnesses to the dark ages.

    Moving all the patients from Dorothea Dix, away from their friends and relatives in Raleigh, to Oxford was barbaric, and in my opinion, it was only done so the state could get it's greedy crooked hands on the valuable inter-city land it stood on.

    Those with mental illness have little hope of meaningful aid in this state.

    God bless.

    RB

  • katzpauz Oct 1, 2010

    Vicki Smith, executive director of Disabilities Rights NC....you mean like the LME's that have "saved" so much money? Sounds like Smith has a few dollars she wants to make off of the system thru "community" organizations....sort of like the mess we have with group homes.....do we really want mentally unstable people living in our communities?

  • aliput5 Oct 1, 2010

    There is a need for more psych units in hospitals and more smaller psych hospitals. NOT these huge institutional facilities we have in NC

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