Local News

DHHS secretary vows to fix Cherry Hospital

Posted September 12, 2008 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2008 7:22 p.m. EDT

— State Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton said Friday he will do whatever it takes to bring a Goldsboro mental health facility to the highest standards of care to make it "a safe and secure environment."

"The department is dedicated to providing quality care to consumers in the state facilities, and substandard care will not be tolerated," Benton said in a news release.

Cherry Hospital, one of the state's four mental hospitals, Thursday lost its Medicare and Medicaid certification, which means the federal insurance program won't reimburse the hospital for treating patients.

Instead, approximately $800,000 from the department's budget will cover the patients' care. It's too early to say when the hospital will reapply for certification, officials have said.

In the meantime, Compass Group Inc., an out-of-state independent hospital management team, will review Cherry Hospital and develop a plan for any changes necessary to bring the facility "not just back into compliance, but to the highest standards of care," Benton said.

The group will then work on-site at Cherry Hospital and implement the plan.

Benton said he wants more money to cover the budget shortfall and to raise pay in certain positions. He also wants to add crisis teams in Cherry Hospital's coverage areas and make extra community hospital beds available.

Thursday's official announcement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to decertify Cherry Hospital is the latest in setbacks for the hospital as well as the state's mental health system.

It has struggled to stabilize after reform legislation earlier this decade left pockets of the state without community treatment options and ultimately led to wasteful spending.

At Cherry Hospital, state officials disclosed in mid-August that a patient had died in April after choking on medication and being left sitting in a chair for nearly 24 hours over the course of four work shifts.

Benton closed the hospital ward where the patient died and removed staff members involved from caring for patients directly.

Two staff members also were accused of beating a different patient in August, at the same time Cherry leaders started patient care retraining to show investigators it was trying to fix problems.

Broughton hospital in Morganton was decertified for 10 months until July while the state fixed problems related to patient safety, including a patient's death last year.