Local News

Director: Delaying Dix move would raise 'significant concerns'

Posted September 23, 2008 10:18 a.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2008 2:17 p.m. EDT

— The co-director of the state's mental health system is responding to concerns from doctors wanting to delay a controversial transfer of patients from Dorothea Dix Hospital.

In a letter Tuesday, Michael Lancaster, also the acting director of Central Regional Hospital, says there are also "significant concerns" about keeping patients at the older facility, which is a factor in the move, scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Lancaster writes that Dorothea Dix does not comply with modern building codes and that the sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems are "significantly older" than those at Central Regional, which opened in June.

Patients were supposed to be transferred there during the summer, but the move was delayed because of safety and staffing concerns.

In a letter last week, Dix doctors cite a lack of a fully operational paging system, among other issues, as reasons to delay the transfer. They argue that paging system could keep doctors from reliably receiving pages, therefore "placing patients at unnecessary risk."

Lancaster writes in his letter that correcting issues with the paging system has progressed and that 99 percent of them will be resolved by the end of the week.

He also cites difficulty in having staff assigned to both hospitals having become "increasingly problematic."

"I have heard from the clinical leadership at DDH that there has been a significant impact on the treatment programs of both facilities as we remain apart," he writes. "The staffing concerns continue to mount as we are not able to combine our staffs as planned, leaving gaps in both facilities to fill with agency and travel personnel."

Central Regional replaces both Dorothea Dix and John Umstead Hospital in Butner. Umstead patients moved there in July.

About 170 adult patients at Dorothea Dix will make the move, beginning next week. Child and adolescent patients are expected to stay put until Dec. 1, when work is completed to house them at Central Regional.

The Legislature said Central Regional l had to meet outside safety standards before Dorothea Dix patients could move.

In making the announcement about the move last week, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton, said that the move is safe and poses fewer risks than leaving the two facilities as separate entities.