Butner, N.C. — Could the remainder of the beds at the state's newest mental health hospital soon be filled?
The $130 million Central Regional Hospital opened in Butner last July, yet nearly half the beds remain empty because of a judge's temporary restraining order prohibiting the state from moving more than 150 adult patients to the facility from Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh.
Disability Rights North Carolina filed a complaint last September asking for the order, citing more than a dozen safety concerns and conditions the state failed to meet for the move, as outlined under state law.
But North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler says that he would like to begin moving the patients in October.
Leaders of DHHS and Disability Rights met Tuesday for a tour of Central Regional and to talk about the patient advocacy group's concerns.
Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights, said her staff will evaluate what's been done and review the department's transition plan but that, based on her visit Tuesday, she believes the hospital is significantly safer now than when it opened last year.
"They're definitely moving in the right direction," she said. "We are impressed with the work and effort they put into this."
"In our hospitals, we've experienced problems, and we've taken major steps to deal with those issues," Cansler said. "Can I guarantee nothing will happen again? No."
It is ultimately up to Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour to lift the temporary restraining order. If that happens, Cansler said, Dix patients will be moved in segments over a period of months to ensure the transition runs smoothly.
"We've got to make sure we have everything right at the new hospital before we can fill it up, which we're about to do," Cansler said.
Once the move is complete, it will save the state an estimated $800,000 a month, Cansler said.
Eventually, Central Regional will replace both Dorothea Dix and John Umstead Hospital, which is also in Butner.
Dorothea Dix, now a subsidiary campus of Central Regional, will stay open for at least three more years as an overflow unit and to house children and adolescents in need of long-term care.
Umstead's adult patients moved to the facility in July 2008. DHHS plans to move children and adolescents from Umstead to Central Regional in the first week of September.
Following the move, Umstead will close to patients and likely be used as administrative space.