Raleigh, N.C. — A legislative oversight committee met Wednesday to discuss a plan to move patients when Dorothea Dix Hospital closes next year and patients are moved to a new facility in Granville County.
Construction on Central Regional Hospital in Butner isn't expected to be complete until mid-January. Patients will be moved by the end of February.
The committee also heard from the public, which voiced concerns that the plan is moving too fast and that patients' concerns have not fully been addressed.
In a letter to the Legislative Oversight Committee, some patients wrote: "Please remember while you are assessing the hospital closings, we are living, breathing people and citizens."
"Families have been put through hell," said patient advocate Louise Fisher, who is angry and disappointed that patients from Dix and John Umstead Hospital are being moved to Central Regional Hospital. "The whole plan is too fast. It wasn't thought through."
State leaders expressed similar sentiments.
"Let's make sure that there are sufficient staffed beds for patients who need help before we close beds," state Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, said.
Last month, Wake County commissioner Tony Gurley announced a partnership with the state tokeep a temporary in-patient facility open as the hospital moves to the new Butner buildings.
The interim agreement, which would last up to three years, will keep 24 beds online for Wake County until it builds its own facility. The beds will be located in a building on the Dix campus, but it will not be considered Dorothea Dix Hospital.
"We would run those beds, and Wake County would finance those beds," said Mike Mosely, director of the North Carolina Mental Health Division. "The department has decided they wish to increase that capacity up to 60 beds."
The state will pay for the difference.
The oversight committee doesn't have authority to slow the process. The General Assembly has that power, but it is not in session until the spring.
What to do with the 306-acre Dix campus south of downtown Raleigh has been up for debate for years. But that was not part of Wednesday's hearing.
The city of Raleigh wants to buy the land from the state for $10.5 million to create a Central Park-like attraction. Three advocacy groups support that idea and have been trying to raise money to help the park along.
"The Dix Visionaries plan will propel the state that we live into the forefront of our nation," said Gregory Poole, a member of that group.
Critics argue, however, that the city's purchase of the land is not a done deal.
"The city of Raleigh is a bit premature in making the offer," said Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake.
The state has not decided what to do with the property. Gov. Mike Easley suggested at one point putting the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters on the site. Others want a mix of housing, offices and retail.
"It has been a very long and hard process," said state Sen. Janet Cowell, D-Wake. "It may well go into '09."