Local News

Central Regional another signal of troubled system

Posted December 3, 2008 6:05 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2008 12:12 p.m. EST

— Central Regional Hospital in Butner is the third state mental health facility over the past two years that has been in jeopardy of losing reimbursements for federal medical insurance programs.

Some health care experts say it is the latest example of a state health care system that is broken and in need of fixing.

A 131-page federal report released Tuesday shows example after example of policies not followed and standards not met at the new psychiatric hospital, including one incident in which an 8-year-old was restrained inappropriately for two hours.

"It's alarming. It's appalling. It leaves me speechless," said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, a group mandated by Congress to monitor and ensure the safety of patients with disabilities.

Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro lost federal funding in September. Broughton Hospital in Morganton lost funding last year.

The state is expected to incur about $800,000 a month in costs associated with Cherry Hospital's losing its funding. It's unclear what it would cost the state if Central Regional, which also has a Raleigh campus at the site formerly called Dorothea Dix Hospital, loses its authorization to collect federal reimbursements.

State Division of Mental Health officials said Wednesday that they continue to be concerned with ongoing issues throughout the system and that they are aggressively dealing with them.

The state has until Dec. 8 to file a corrective action plan for Central Regional. If the plan is not approved, federal funding will be terminated on Dec. 14.

Dr. Harold Carmel, a consulting professor of psychiatry at Duke University, said that what federal surveyors were looking for on their visits to the hospitals is standard and that hospital workers should have understood what was required.

"They should have understood what the surveyors would be looking for," Carmel said. "This points to leadership, and it points to how care is organized."

Experts and advocates now look to Governor-elect Beverly Perdue to help turn the system around.

"I understand that what is going on is not right. I understand it's my responsibility to find a good secretary (of the Department of Health and Human Services) and a good leader of the Division of Mental Health to make sure we put ourselves back on a course of proper health care," Perdue said.

Perdue says she will be hands-on, with clear goals and accountability.

"Can I give you names and promises right now? No. But you give me a year or so and you're going to be mighty happy with what we've done," she said.