06/15/05 — Close O’Berry or Caswell? Put top priority on the patients’ care

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Close O’Berry or Caswell? Put top priority on the patients’ care

O’Berry Center at Goldsboro and Caswell Center at Kinston are being mentioned as potential targets under a state budget proposal that considers eliminating one of the state’s four mental retardation centers to save money.

Caswell Center has 950 residents and 1,680 employees. There are 290 residents at O’Berry, which is staffed by 1,000 employees.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom opposes closing any of the centers.

A couple of observations made by proponents appear to beg the issue. Rep. Jim Crawford, chairman of a House budget committee, noted that O’Berry and Caswell “are within 30 miles of each other.” He suggests closing the one that is “in the worst shape.”

Also supporting the closure is Dave Richard, executive director of the Arc of North Carolina. He says the system needs to be moving more retarded patients out of the institutions.

Secretary Hooker Odom counters that care and treatment services are not available in the communities.

And that is the crux of the issue. Providing competent, compassionate care around the clock is all that can be done for many of the residents. Neither the communities nor families can adequately do this.

Setting “goals” for releasing retarded patients from O’Berry and Caswell raises the specter of “dumping” them on families and communities.

And the suggestion that the two institutions are “within 30 miles of each other” should not divert the public focus and the state’s obligation to the 740 residents who need — and are receiving — good treatment at O’Berry and Caswell.

Published in Editorials on June 15, 2005 11:25 AM