06/21/05 — No plans to close O'Berry

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No plans to close O'Berry

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 21, 2005 1:45 PM

State and local officials say there are no plans to close O'Berry Center, despite comments made during recent House subcommittee budget discussions.

Carmen Hooker Odom, state Secretary of Health and Human Services, said Monday the proposal was "clearly an initiative that comes out of budget writers on the House side. We have no intention of closing it."

Sen. John Kerr of Wayne County contacted the News-Argus on June 11, the day after the House subcommittee discussed the possible closure of one of the state's mental retardation centers. Kerr said O'Berry and Caswell Center in Kinston were mentioned because they were within 30 miles of one another.

Kerr said at the time that he would oppose the closing of either facility.

Mrs. Odom said she had spoken with Kerr as well as state Rep. Larry Bell about the issue and that they were strongly opposed to the idea of shutting down O'Berry or Caswell.

"They're very intent that they don't want that bill to ever see the light of day," she said.

Mrs. Odom said there are no plans to close any facilities, particularly O'Berry and Caswell, and that the proposal did not come from her office. Final details of the budget are still being ironed out by the two chambers and are due by July 1.

In the meantime, she said, her office will work closely with Kerr and Bell to ensure that a proposal to close either O'Berry or Caswell does not appear in the final budget.

Mrs. Odom said that O'Berry Center's role is not in question and that every effort will be made to maintain jobs that are important to the community.

Dr. Frank Farrell, director of O'Berry, said it provides high-quality services with a "wonderful group of staff who do an excellent job every day."

He said he understands lawmakers' plans to overhaul the state system for such facilities and that O'Berry will continue to play a vital role.

"As you look at the state plan, there's no call for closing the center," Farrell said. "There's nothing formal announcing any closing, of this facility or any other."

He said since the speculation surfaced about the possible closing, his office has worked hard to keep employees informed about the process.

"Our primary goal has been to keep folks calmed down," he said.