RALEIGH, N.C. — Dorothea Dix Hospital is on the verge of a drastic statewide mental health reform. It is slated to shut down, shifting care to smaller community facilities. Employees are clearly uneasy about the future, but some question whether the transition is linked to recent problems.
Distractions at Dorothea Dix only compound the challenge of caring for the mentally ill. Former hospital worker Otis Simmons is charged with taking indecent liberties with a child in his care. Willam Hahn and Robert Barney are accused of physically abusing young patients.
At least four patients have escaped this year, including Wendell Williamson, who opened fire on a Chapel Hill street in 1995, killing two people.
The aging psychiatric hospital is scheduled to close in 2007. Long-term workers are leaving, yet admissions of sick people keep rising.
John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina, said employees see the handwriting on the wall.
"There's a struggle to keep the best and brightest there. We certainly have dedicated, committed folks throughout, but it's a struggle," he said.
"Whether or not that relates to specific types of incidents that might be occurring today, I think that might be a disconnect. I can't necessarily draw conclusions that these two things are a marriage," state mental health director Michael Moseley said.
At the same time, Moseley admits the phasing out of the state's flagship psychiatric hospital will not be easy.
"Anytime you're transforming a system and you are planning to close a facility, it brings about a lot of issues," Moseley said.
Moseley contends the hospital takes quick action to resolve its problems. He now plans to get directly involved in trying to smooth the transition as Dix prepares to close.