Local News

Disability rights group asks court to stop Dix move

Posted September 23, 2008 3:41 p.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2008 7:03 p.m. EDT

— A protection and advocacy group for people with disabilities is asking a judge to delay the transfer of 170 adult patients from Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to a new state psychiatric hospital in Butner.

Disability Rights North Carolina says it is concerned about remaining safety issues at Central Regional Hospital, which opened in July, and claims the state has failed to meet conditions for the move as outlined under state law.

"We are not sure that this move makes patients at Dix more safe, and that's what we are trying to have resolved," DRNC Executive Director Vicki Smith said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, investigators with the national Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed up at Central Regional on Tuesday in response to complaints, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said. He declined to further elaborate.

The transfer, which has been delayed four times, is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. State health officials have insisted that the facility is safe and that any remaining concerns are in the process of being resolved.

In a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon, however, the DRNC lists 15 concerns it says will not be corrected or fixed before the move begins, including issues with Central Regional's wireless system, which operates all communications.

"Whenever the system is 'down,' it must be treated as an emergency," the complaint states, and it claims that as recently as last week, neither phones nor pagers worked for more than an hour, "negatively affecting the treatment of an acutely ill patient."

The DRNC also points to problems with the hospital's emergency alert system, saying it averages 10 false alarms a day, resulting in staff ignoring the duress calls. And it states that staff have not received adequate training, which could compromise patient care.

Eventually, Central Regional will replace both Dorothea Dix and John Umstead Hospital, which is also in Butner. Umstead patients moved to the facility in July.

But for Dix patients to move, state law requires assurances from two accrediting agencies. One, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, won't find Central Regional in compliance until patients move in.

Division of Mental Health officials say that with the exception of the patients being there, they believe the hospital is compliant.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services had no comment on the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, saying the agency does not comment on  litigation.

But in a letter Tuesday morning about concerns expressed by doctors who want the move delayed, Michael Lancaster, co-director of the Division of Mental Health, addresses the number of false emergency alarms, saying they've decreased to fewer than two per shift.

He also talks about a number of concerns that arise by keeping patients at Dix, including outdated building codes and fire alarm systems and difficulties in having staff assigned to both hospitals.

"These are significant concerns about prolonging the occupation of these older buildings," Lancaster wrote.