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House Committee Considers Psychiatric Hospital Location

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A House committee voted down competingproposals Tuesday to put a $110 million state psychiatric hospitalin either Chatham or Wake counties, but left unresolved where thefacility will go.

Despite the votes, supporters of both sites said either couldemerge as the winner in the hospital sweepstakes. A third sitefavored by state health officials - Butner in Granville County -was also expected to struggle to receive a majority vote in thecommittee, clouding the issue for at least another day.

"I don't think this decision is going to be made necessarily inthis committee," said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, whose districtincludes a portion of Chatham County. "There is a long way to goin this controversy and this battle."

Legislators and state health officials are trying to determinewhere to place a 430-bed hospital which will replace Dorothea DixHospital in Raleigh and John Umstead Hospital in Butner.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom beganpushing lawmakers for a consolidated hospital to replacing theaging facilities after audits and studies questioned whetheradequate services could be provided there. One audit recommendedclosing Dix Hospital.

After further studies, department officials settled on theButner site, and requested financing from the General Assembly.Instead, some legislators introduced competing bills to bring thehospital to Wake or Chatham counties.

Supporters of the Butner site argue that it has a readilyavailable workforce at John Umstead.

Wake supporters say the county's large population center willmake it more convenient to more patients; proponents of the Chathamtalk about its central location to the region it will serve.

The House Finance Committee met for an hour-and-a-half Tuesdaymorning before voting against the Wake and Chatham proposals. Anafternoon meeting was canceled, and the committee was expected toconsider a proposal to put the hospital in Granville County onWednesday morning.

If that vote fails, the committee could pass legislation tofinance the hospital without specifying a location. The full Housecould then hash out the issue on the chamber floor, or put thedecision back in Hooker Odom's hands.

The bills being considered calls for the project to be financedwith certificates of participation, which do not require voterapproval. The debt would be repaid over 20 years, with initial debtpayments would run about $12 million a year.

Health officials estimate they can save more than $50 million inreduce operating costs for the facility, which will be half thesize of the existing two hospitals.

Hooker Odom says the saving can be used to repay the debt andput into community-based mental health programs.

The new hospital is being considered as North Carolina overhaulsits mental health system to provide more services withincommunities, rather than state institutions.

Any legislation will also have to have the approval of StateTreasurer Richard Moore, who oversees the issuing of state debt,and the 10-member Council of State.

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