01/31/06 — OPINION - Cherry Hospital's age is showing

View Archive

OPINION - Cherry Hospital's age is showing

By Gene Price
Published in News on January 31, 2006 1:50 PM

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and Sen. John Kerr took time last week to visit Cherry Hospital. They spent upwards of two hours being briefed by staff members, asking questions and then touring some of the facilities.

Their interest was based on a proposal to replace the present facility and tailor its mission in the years ahead.

Under the Department of Health and Human Services plan, Cherry Hospital would become the Eastern Region Psychiatric Hospital. Envisioned is a more than $100 million facility located on Cherry Hospital land already owned by the state.

Basnight and Kerr were given some convincing reasons why the new facility is needed.

Some of its buildings were designed and constructed in the 1880s. Other structures were added in 1939, in 1951 and -- the "newest" -- in 1962.

The cost of maintenance, heating and cooling, are exorbitant compared to modern- day building designs and equipment. While the hospital staff and maintenance people at Cherry do an impressive job with what they have, the senators found the facilities obviously reflect the culmination of generations of patchwork and make-do ingenuity.

They also reflect disturbing inadequacies.

Of particular concern to the hospital staff are the difficulties the present, spread-out and old era structures pose to the treatment, comfort and safety of patients as well as the safety of hospital personnel.

At one point, Sen. Basnight wondered whether some aspects of the facilities could pass modern-day standards demanded of new construction.

Hospital officials pointed out that the buildings and the layout of the campus not only require more maintenance personnel but necessitate having a larger staff of doctors, nurses and attendants to provide adequate treatment and assure safety. This, they noted, signficantly increases the cost of operations.

To provide the facilities now envisioned by the hospital staff and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Legislature would have to authorize general obligation bonds.

Funding of more than $100 million for the Eastern Region Psychiatric Hospital in Goldsboro would be in competition with capital needs being cried out for from across the state.

But Sen. Basnight and Sen. Kerr both agreed after their briefing and tour that Cherry Hospital's staff -- and its antiquated buildings -- had made a strong and convincing case.