Raleigh, N.C. — Most mental patients will be out of Dorothea Dix Hospital by early next week, and Gov. Beverly Perdue says she would like to privatize services for those who remain.
The only patients at Dix after next week will be in the minimum-security forensics unit, which houses criminals with mental illnesses who have been ordered by a judge to undergo treatment.
The medium- and maximum-security criminals are currently housed at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, but Perdue said Thursday that she wants to consolidate all forensics patients at Dix and hire a private company to manage the unit.
"I want to privatize it because I believe, in some instances, it's more efficient for us to privatize a service like that," she said. “The forensics psych unit would really save money. It would be I think a valuable way to use the core hospital.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services has already issued a notice requesting information from interested private vendors.
"This is for us to gather information, to see what the possibilities are. Then, we'll make the decision on how we want to proceed," Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler said Friday.
DHHS officials said in September that they would shut down most operations at Dix, the state's oldest psychiatric hospital, and shift patients to Central Regional and to Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro to save about $17 million as the state faces a projected $3.7 billion deficit.
"The bottom line is, when the budget says it's gone, it's gone. You can't have it both ways," Perdue said, adding that she wants to move forward with her plan if it's feasible, even if it's not popular.
Mental health advocates want Dix funded and kept open for more than just criminals in the forensics unit.
"The state needs an intensive care unit for people with mental illness, and that is lacking, especially now with people backed up in our emergency departments," said Ann Akland, past president of the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Meanwhile, proponents of putting a park on the 306-acre Dix campus said they don't view Perdue's plan as a major hurdle.
"You certainly could have the forensics unit there and still have a large park," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.