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State mental hospital opening delayed again

Central Regional Hospital was expected to open to patients in mid-June, but officials say the date is being pushed back to give staff more time to complete training.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state, for the fourth time in less than a year, has delayed the opening of a new mental health facility in Butner for another month, health officials said.

Patients from both John Umstead Hospital in Butner and Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh were initially scheduled to begin their move to Central Regional Hospital in mid-June.

But Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton said Monday the date has been pushed back to hire more staff, properly train them and address any remaining safety issues in the new building.

Umstead's patients are now scheduled to move the week of July 14; Dix patients are schedule to move the week of July 28.

"This is cautious, responsible and very logical," Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who chairs the Mental Health Oversight Committee, said.

Dix and Umstead will both close when the transition is complete by Aug. 1.

John Tote, executive director for the Mental Health Association in North Carolina believes the decision to continually delay the target dates by weeks at a time could potentially have a negative impact on the larger mental health community.

"We have to move in a way that's best for the client first, but we have to be mindful this could have ripple, potentially tidal-wave impact repercussions on other parts of the system if we're not careful," he said.

In January, Benton delayed the closing of both hospitals by 60 days to improve operations and to allow sufficient time to address construction issues with the hospital.

Some mental health workers have asked that the hospital's opening be delayed a year, saying the new facility will be understaffed and that working conditions pose a danger to patients and staff and make it difficult to provide quality heath care.

Charlotte Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory told reporters in Raleigh Monday that Dix should remain fully functional through the end of the fiscal year to give the next governor time to review the state's mental health needs.

Gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue said the most important issue should be making sure patients are getting the care they need.

When it's complete Central Regional will have 432 private rooms, employ more than 1,600 people and serve patients from 26 counties.