EDITOR's NOTE: The following is an letter from patients at Dorothea Dix sent to the State Legislative Oversight Committee.
December 3, 2007
Dear Members of the NC State Legislative Oversight Committee:
We are patients at Dorothea Dix Hospital (DDH) and members of the Learning Court Quality Council, a peer representation body. We represent and speak on behalf of all the patients at DDH as well as many staff members.
This letter is to convey the concerns of many of our fellow patients and support staff regarding the plan to close DDH and John Umstead Hospital in February, 2008.
Many DDH patients and staff listened together to the live web cast on September 25th 2007, during which, the state presented the plan for closing the two hospitals. We are aware that the plan fell short of the required criteria for approval by statute.
We have reviewed significant portions of the revised plan to be presented to the Legislative Oversight Committee this coming December fifth. As patients are the primary stakeholders in this plan, and as the representative body for those stakeholders, we feel it is our duty to express comments and concerns we have about the proposed hospital closings.
To begin, we would like to quote a part of the submitted revised plan: "On-going efforts to assist patients to prepare for the transition have been occurring at both JUH and DDH with social workers taking the lead in assisting individual patients to prepare for the transition." This is not true. We could not find any of our fellow patients that stated s/he had any input in the plan for closure. We have not received on-going official information or individual support regarding what to expect and neither have our families. We have, however, heard a lot of rumors and hearsay. DDH patients and their families are growing more concerned and fearful because the plan to close the hospitals is drawing near and many of us do not know where we are going (Cherry, Broughton or Central Region), much less how to prepare for the move. In fact, we don't even feel we have enough information to be able to ask good questions.
Below is a list of questions and concerns that we would like considered by the Legislative Oversight Committee:
– During the move process, what measures are in place to respond to medical emergencies?
– We have heard that Broughton had to decrease the number of patients that they can admit to the hospital. How will this affect the transfer of many forensic patients to that hospital?
– Is there an actual plan to help us and our families handle the stress of this move?
– Are these closures truly cost effective?
– If I need to be hospitalized, will there be a bed for me?
– Due to overcrowding, will I be discharged before I am ready?
– Before that, will I be stuck in an emergency room for days waiting for a bed to open up?
– We understand that all state mental health hospitals are seeing a rise in admissions. With so many people needing help, is it safe to close DDH right now?
– With the "out of the way" location of the new hospital, will quality staff be available to work there? Will there be enough staff?
– We have heard that there is no place to walk outside at the new hospital. Is this true?
– We have also heard that the new hospital has courtyards that are surrounded on all sides by the building. Are there any outdoor spaces where we can feel the breeze?
– Will patients be able to obtain community employment as they can currently do at DDH? Is there enough business in Butner for patient employment to even be an option?
– Will the closure of DDH result in more people with mental illness ending up in jail because they cannot get a hospital bed for needed treatment?
– Community services are already inadequate to properly provide support (many of us know this from our lived experiences), how will this change when the hospitals close?
– With the new hospital expecting more patients than it was designed for, how will we all fit? Not just in relation to having a place to sleep, but also in regards to meals, groups, recreation, etc. What will our quality of life be in such an overcrowded environment?
– We have heard that forensic patients will be completely segregated from the rest of the patients and that their rooms have a stainless steel, sink/lid-less toilet unit. Will they be treated as prisoners or people with mental illness?
– Is this plan just about money? Or providing quality mental health services?
– Is the state just trying to get people with mental illness off of valuable downtown Raleigh land?
– Is this plan as big of a mess as it seems? Is this plan broken?
– Will this plan help our lives to become better or worse?
– When asked if there were any more questions or comments to make to the Legislative Oversight Committee, one Quality Council peer threw up his hands and said, "Please help us."
We urge you to take a closer look at this plan and change it where needed. We do not believe the state is ready to close Dorothea Dix. Also, we are fearful of any plan to simply delay its closing. That makes us less safe because good staff will continue to leave us. We know what's really happening because we are patients here.
One final comment: Please remember while you are assessing the hospital closings, we are living, breathing people and citizens. We are not "beds."
The DDH Learning Court Quality Council
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