Local News

State Postpones Closing Dorothea Dix

Posted January 3, 2008

— The state's top health official announced Thursday he is delaying closing Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Hospital and the opening of a new mental health facility in Butner.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton said he was delaying the closing of Dix and John Umstead Hospital in Butner by 60 days to improve operations and to assure sufficient time to address any construction issues with the new hospital.

"My main reason for wanting to do this is to make it as clear as possible that when we occupy that facility, it is ready for patients and ready for the staff," he said.

Dix and John Umstead Hospital in Butner were expected to close in February and merge into the $120 million Central Regional Hospital, but there have been concerns about construction and patient concerns that the plan is moving too fast.

"An external work group will be convened to assess the structural and operational questions associated with opening the new hospital," Benton said.

The group, comprised of experts from Duke Medical Center, UNC Hospitals and the North Carolina Hospital Association, will also review the plan to transition of services from Dix and Umstead to the new hospital.

Officials had planned to close Dix and Umstead in February and move most of their patients to Central by the end of February.

But a recent internal review found 30 types of hazards in the facility, some of which could allow patients to hang themselves.

Benton said extending the transfer completion date until May 1 will give state officials more time to ensure the hospital is safe for patients.

"I don't know how he could have reached another conclusion," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.

She said that in light of the ongoing problems throughout the state's mental health system, the transition must be done right.

"We don't want to be doing it without a clear understanding it's going to work," Insko said. "We have had failures before. I think the worst thing that could happen would be to move ahead and have some crisis emerge from that action."

Benton said the delay will also give leaders at Broughton Hospital in Morganton more time to improve operations.

The hospital lost its ability to collect Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements in August following a federal investigation into the death of a patient. The facility is now in danger of losing its federal accreditation, and Benton said.

All four state-run psychiatric hospitals currently taking patients have been under pressure recently by the federal government to improve patient safety and administration.

The announcement was part of a plan Benson presented at a news conference to fix the state's mental health system.

“As you know, Gov. Easley gave me clear marching orders back in September – fix the state’s public mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services system,” Benton said. “In the short time I have been here as secretary, I have noticed too often people were ‘talking past each other’ not ‘to each other.’ I am going to change that.”

As part of the plan, Benton is moving the state-operated services section out of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services to report directly to him. This section is responsible for day-to-day direction of all 14 of the state's public mental health facilities.

A spokesman for Easley said the governor supports Benton's plan.

Benton also announced a new Web site, operational by the end of January, to improve public understanding the activities in the State operated facilities and to ensure transparency.

It will include "a broad array of information," he said, including admissions and discharge data, patient deaths and injuries and staff injuries.

"We want to be open about our hospitals," he said. "So we're going to post all of the news – bad and good – on this site.

He also announced a 5 percent average pay in crease for hospital psychiatrists and a study about whether to increase pay for nurses and other hospital workers.

"We have many fine staff at our institutions," he said. "We want to do everything we can to make the hospitals a good environment for our employees as well as our patients."


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  • iamforjustice Jan 4, 2008

    A lot of people have put in resignations...this is not a good thing to happen. This move has messed up a lot of people. Some were expected to move and could not afford the distant drive quit also. Some were offered new jobs and they have done things to prepare for them and now that is defunct. I think this whole ordeal is scandalous. There are some smart ignorant people in this state...oxymoron intended...I was ready to move to my new career and more money and dangit I am still stuck at this desk talking on WRAL comment section to a bunch of idiots....lol...just kidding people...don't get your bloomers in a bunch...

  • lovecarolinagutters Jan 4, 2008

    I personally thing whatelseisnew is right. You just don't decapitate your own kids. He worked at Lowes Home Improvement in Garner. He was sane enough to hold down a job. He should have been sane enough to not kill his daughter.

  • Ken D. Jan 4, 2008

    whatelseisnew - it's attitudes like yours that are the reason mental health care in NC is so poor. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • aquamama Jan 4, 2008

    nic: I totally agree that the nurses and everybody else working in public mental health care should get raises. We certainly need the resources and need to attract more people to the field. Now if we could just get the insurance companies to pay an appropriate amount for appropriate mental health care in the private sector...ah, that'll NEVER happen. Then they wouldn't be able to pay their CEOs millions of dollars per year.

    I really hope they just keep Dix open for good. Seriously, they expect to mainstream some of these patients? Where will they go? Moore Square?

  • Iron Man Jan 4, 2008

    If Dix Hospital was a Cancer, Heart, transplant and other physical illness hospital facility, they would be building a newer and modern facility, but because most believe that if a person with a mental illness would just deal with the difficulties of life they wouldn't need hospitalization. It is a sad thing to think our society takes better care of criminals than they do persons with a mental illness. We will spend 10 times more for a cancer patient whom will recover or die than for a person with a mental illness who must suffer all their lives and may committ sueicide because of the pain and aggony of the illness. We have two of the finest teaching hospitals and pharmacudicle companies in country within 25 miles of Raleigh and could make the Dix campus a center for research and treatment for the mentally ill, but we send everyone to Butner. Out of sight out of mind. Thanks to our leaders for being so compassionate and caring.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 4, 2008

    There is nothing for that man that did in his daughter that the death penalty won't cure.

  • ncmom65 Jan 4, 2008

    With Emergency Rooms holding mentally ill patients for up to 50 hours or more waiting for placement in a mental health facility, it's amazing to me that Dix is even closing. It's incredibly silly to move these patients farther away from the triangle, too....most mentally ill patients newly admitted to mental health facilities are done so on a involuntary committment which means they must be transported by medical personnel and accompanied by law enforcement....really smart to take a medical transport team off the road and a law enforcement team off the road to transport a psych patient....great use of resources!
    Next time you are waiting for hours in an Emergency Department, you'll have to wonder if there are any beds being taken up by a psych patient who is sitting around waiting for placement. Dix needs to stay open, we need the beds, we need the services, the community needs this facility!!!

  • WHEEL Jan 4, 2008

    Here is an idea. Turn the whole division over to an "outside working group" Health and Human Services have not been able to hit their but with both hands since Weasley hired Hooker-Jones who saw this comming and hit the road

    As long as NC has been dealing with mental health patients and cannot oversee the design and construction of a new facility is a disaster

  • bstrickland1968 Jan 4, 2008

    I just read that the man who decapitated his 4 year old daughter was mentally incapable to stand trial and needed help. Then I read that two mental health facilities in the area are closing. Wow, just doesn't seem to add up. I guess it's kinda like the lighter sentencing because the prisons are full.

  • egriffin8278 Jan 3, 2008

    With a close to 98% occupancy rate at both Dix and Umstead, it is absurd to try to close both and build a new hospital that has fewer beds than Dix has now. This whole moving patients into the community isn't going to work, which how little psychs are reimbursed now by the system, what private psych is going to want to take a hard case such as a schiz or a severe bypolar? Also what they going to do if the pt is threatening harm to themselves or others.
    This is nothing but another attempt at the state leaders trying to save a buck on mental health and pretty soon we're going to have Virginia Tech incidents all over the place... Just because you're not treating them, doesn't mean they are going away....