04/21/04 — Cherry-O'Berry alliance update

View Archive

Cherry-O'Berry alliance update

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 21, 2004 2:05 PM

Consolidating services at Cherry Hospital and O'Berry Center are creating leaner organizations better suited for the future of mental health services, officials said Tuesday.

The two state facilities will have a single management team as of July. Discussions of other mergers are beginning and going smoothly, said O'Berry Director Dr. Jerry Lyall and Cherry Director Dr. Jerry Edwards.

About 20 positions, including Edwards', were eliminated during the first phase, and more are expected to follow. The directors do not expect to lay off anyone based only on the new alliance, they said. They intend to eliminate jobs as they become vacant.

But the state is continuing to eliminate beds in its regional mental health centers, which will cost some jobs, Lyall said.

Lyall and Edwards spoke Tuesday morning at a legislative breakfast held by the Mental Health Association in Wayne County at Wilber's Barbecue. Also attending were N.C. Sen. John Kerr of Goldsboro and N.C. Rep. Louis Pate of Mount Olive. Other legislators were invited but didn't attend.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced in January that Cherry Hospital, which serves people with severe mental health problems, and O'Berry Center, which serves people with severe developmental disabilities, would enter into an alliance.

The state intended to bring O'Berry and Cherry under a single administrative team, headed by Lyall. Edwards will remain on staff as a a special deputy until next February, his scheduled retirement.

The state also changed O'Berry's mission. It now will serve patients who have been diagnosed with both developmental disabilities and mental illness.

Caswell Center in Kinston became the primary residential center for eastern North Carolinians with a single diagnosis of severe developmental disabilities.

O'Berry Center is still developing a program for the dual diagnosis patients, which will be unique in North Carolina, Edwards said. "We've already had 11-13 referrals for a program that doesn't exist yet."

The state is projecting that O'Berry could eventually serve 80 to 100 dual diagnosis clients, he said.

O'Berry is allowing its current single diagnosis clients to remain until their guardians and family agree to place them at home or in another residential facility. They're not under any pressure to leave, Edwards said.

Cherry Hospital will continue to serve eastern North Carolina, but the state is pushing most patients to be treated in their home communities.

It is closing one of its four mental hospitals, Dorothea Dix in Raleigh, and eliminating beds at others.

Ten years ago, both Cherry and O'Berry typically had 600 patients, Edwards said. Today they have around 600 combined.

To survive, both Goldsboro facilities need to be as lean as possible, which has led to the alliance, the directors said.

Administrative support, budget and human resource departments were the first to be combined.

The administrations will merge in July. Discussions have now begun on all other professional services, including pharmaceutical, chaplain, volunteer services and others.

Employees are taking part in nearly all the discussions of the consolidations, Lyall said. "By and large, our staff has developed the recommendations."

The impact of the consolidations have been muted by some vacancies, Lyall added. For example, the new alliance did not need two personnel directors, but one position was open.

In other cases, some employees will take new positions that will be eliminated once they become vacant.