Two days ago, the state began an unannounced inspection at Cherry Hospital based on a complaint. The state will not disclose what the complaint is about or what inspectors have found so far, but an employee at the hospital thinks he has an idea.
A health care technician who works at Cherry Hospital says he is upset by a violent incident on one of the psychiatric wards last week. The employee says he witnessed part of an attack by a 200-pound patient on several of his co-workers.
"He was totally out of hand," the employee says. "He was swinging pool sticks, electrical cords, throwing pool balls, and a staff member, at that time, was hurt with a pool stick and received head injuries."
The employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the most frustrating thing is the injuries could have been prevented if the hospital had more staff. He is glad the state is conducting an unannounced inspection at Cherry Hospital this week.
"I really don't know what it's going to take to get that hospital properly manned," the employee says. "Is it going to have to go as far as really having a dangerous incident where someone is possibly killed?"
The state insists Cherry Hospital does have adequate staffing levels, but the North Carolina Mental Health Consumer's Organization is also questioning patient/caregiver ratios.
Even though it does not know what brought on the inspection, the group hopes it is part of a broader assessment of the state's psychiatric hospitals, following the problems documented at Dorothea Dix.
"I feel that if there's problems in one system, usually there's something somewhere else too," says Dorothy O'Neal, a mental health advocate.
The surprise inspections are not routine. There has not been one at Cherry Hospital in three years.