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Central Regional has high-tech safety, but critics point to low staffing

The new state psychiatric hospital in Butner has cutting-edge safety technology. Some critics, though, claim under-staffing undermines those measures.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The new state mental hospital in Butner has the latest in safety technology, but some mental-health workers say under-staffing will create hazards when the hospital opens in July.

Dr. Stephen Oxley, clinical director of Central Regional Hospital, said the new hospital is a unique, state-of-the-art wireless networking facility.

"There are very few such hospitals in the United States," Oxley said. "Most of the psychiatric hospitals are old. This is newly designed, with all the latest technology."

Employees will carry small pager-like devices that can send out alerts during emergency encounters with patients. Along with an overheard page, a code-blue message will be sent to wireless phones and computer screens, identifying who is danger at a precise location.

"(The devices) are able to signal a body alarm that means I'm in trouble; I need help," Oxley said. "It knows who I am, knows that I'm carrying this."

Oxley said Central Regional will be ready to receive patients from John Umstead in Butner during the week of July 14 and from Dorthea Dix Hospital in Raleigh in August.

Most patients will have private bedrooms and bathrooms. Access to eight courtyards will help provide individualized treatment and therapy for them, officials said.

However, workers at the hospitals that will be closed after Central Region opens continued to press that staffing levels will be a concern at the new hospital.

In weekly protest on Friday, Dix workers hand delivered a petition with 500 signatures to the Department of Health Human Services. The petition called for a one-year moratorium on closing Dix and claimed more time is needed to safely make the move to Central Regional.

"You can have the safest hospital in the world, but if you don't have adequate staffing, it's not going to do you any good," Melissa Nelson, a social worker at Dix, said.

A working DHHS group recently said that staffing levels at Central Regional are grossly deficient.

Oxley agreed that a staffing shortage does exist at the new hospital but said it was not so unusual a situation that workers could not cope with it.

"We're not seeing any shortage that's uncharacteristic of what we have in our current hospitals," Oxley said. "To do the job we really want to do, we need more.

"Can we get by with what we have? We can get by with what we have."

Any additional funding to improve staffing levels must come from the state Legislature.