Local News

Sheriff: NC needs more treatment beds for mentally ill

Posted December 17, 2015 6:21 p.m. EST

— Housing mentally ill inmates and transporting people for court-ordered mental evaluations is straining the budgets of sheriff's offices across North Carolina, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said Thursday.

Peterkin, who is president of the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, said state lawmakers need to provide money to open more mental health treatment beds.

"They're trying to find ways to help us. Are they moving as fast as we would like them to? No, but we need help. It's costing a lot of money for us to have to go through what we're going through right now," he said.

North Carolina had 1,755 mental health beds available in 2001, but that had dropped to 850 beds by 2012, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have to transport these patients all across the state of North Carolina," Peterkin said. "Dorothea Dix used to be the hub for a lot of it, but now, you're going to Goldsboro, all across (the state), almost to the state line to take some of these persons."

Since the closing of Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh in 2012, the state now state operates three hospitals for mental health patients: Central Regional Hospital in Butner, Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro and Broughton Mental Health Hospital in Morganton.

Central Regional needs about 400 additional beds, according to state officials.

Peterkin said inmates with mental illnesses occupy about 5 percent of the 250 beds in the Hoke County jail, and he needs more room for them. Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said about 15 to 20 percent of the 800 beds in his detention center are occupied by people who need mental health treatment, not criminal incarceration.

"Our jail is nowhere as big as Cumberland's, but we have the same problem, the same pressure, the same strain because we have to deal with the same type of situation – transporting and looking for beds," Peterkin said.