Local News

DHHS To Make Policy Changes After Fatal Shooting At Mental Hospital

Posted July 25, 2005

— Health leaders call a shooting that happened Friday at a Wayne County psychiatric hospital an isolated incident, but say they are considering changes to keep it from happening again.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it started taking a closer look at security weeks before a patient being admitted to Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro shot a hospital worker before killing himself.

One of its considerations was barring officers from carrying guns during the commitment of a patient.

During the involuntary commitment process Friday afternoon, an Onslow County sheriff's deputy took off Clifton Gentry's leg irons and handcuffs. Witnesses said the man, deemed by law as a threat to himself and others, grabbed the deputy's gun and started shooting.

Healthcare worker William "Shelton" Denning was wounded and was listed in stable condition at Wayne Memorial Hospital Monday evening. Gentry then shot and killed himself.

John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina, said advocates are concerned about security.

"What they have been saying is that it's just not protocol at all to bring a firearm into that type of situation," Tote said.

In fact, Cherry Hospital's written policy allows law enforcement to carry guns during admission. That policy, however, is not consistent in hospitals across the state, which is why the DHHS is looking to change that.

"I think it's always best to err on the safe side and I think if it's possible to keep everyone safe without the use of a firearm at the point of admission, then that's probably the proper thing to do and make that the standard operating procedure," said Mike Hennike, a DHHS spokesman.

The shooting comes at a time when mental health care is undergoing a serious transition. Crisis patient admissions are way up and adequate staffing is harder to come by.

Some advocates believe it was just a matter of time before an incident like Friday's happened. DHHS argues the stress of increased admissions had nothing to do with Friday's shooting.

Leaders hope to have policy changes in place within two weeks.

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