Raleigh, N.C. — UNC Health Care is seeking approval from state regulators to open a 16-bed inpatient mental-health wing in Raleigh that would be operated as a psychiatric unit of UNC Hospitals.
The new unit, which would include crisis and assessment services and medical detox treatment, would complement existing care provided at the WakeBrook Recovery Center, a health care facility managed by Wake County, on Sunnybrook Road.
"Our private providers are important, and they're still going to be providing services, but UNC is going to come in and really help take the pressure off the system by providing services to, really, the most mentally ill people," said Ann Akland, with the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
UNC, under an agreement with the Wake County Board of Commissioners, is expected to assume management of WakeBrook in early 2013.
Administrators say they aim to have the unit operating by next summer and that their ultimate goal is to have 28 psychiatric beds – a $40 million investment.
Hospital rooms are often crowded with patients with mental illness. State-run psychiatric hospital Central Regional Hospital in Butner usually as a waiting list.
Mental health advocates say that some end up in prison without effective treatment.
"It ends up being the place of last resort for many people with mental illness," said Dr. Jack Naftel, vice chairman of the UNC Department of Psychiatry. "In Wake County, there are more psychiatric beds in Central Prison than there are in the private sector. (That) says mental illness is a pervasive problem, and it affects society in a lot of different ways."
Statewide, mental health reform has been ongoing for more than a decade. The latest attempt is two years in the making.
"The gaps we've seen in the mental health system in the past have been very significant," Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said. "We believe we are on track to having a far better managed system in North Carolina."