04/02/06 — O'Berry Center will take on new patient care role

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O'Berry Center will take on new patient care role

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 2, 2006 10:04 AM

O'Berry Center's role is changing, officials say, prompting a move to keep pace with the needs of its aging population and to expand services to cover a larger area.

Officials at the center announced Friday plans to offer a more specialized nursing program. Dr. Frank Farrell, O'Berry director, said the state has been looking at the role of its centers as it looks toward the future.

"The goal is to have three regions across the state rather than four," Farrell said. At present, O'Berry is in the south central region, which covers 17 counties from Wake to the South Carolina border. With the reconfiguration, O'Berry and Caswell Center in Kinston would find themselves in the same region, requiring the state to assess the future for each.

The state plan, which calls for each region to have one center that caters to developmentally disabled and one psychiatric hospital, will also create more of a distinction between O'Berry and Caswell, Farrell said.

"New admissions, if they need more training and treatment in the future, will go to Caswell or Murdock, which will serve more of the central area," he said. "Individuals who are severely or profoundly retarded, developmentally disabled, will be at O'Berry."

In turn, O'Berry will serve the eastern region, which equates to two-thirds of the state. It will more than double its current area served, Farrell said.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Farrell said the most compelling reason was because the needs of clients served have changed. A nursing model is more appropriate now because of patients' age and health issues.

"Our population is changing, getting significantly older. Individuals with severe or profound mental retardation are now living longer," he said. The number of those with developmental disabilities requiring medical attention is expected to double in the next few years, he added.

With the average age of patients at O'Berry approaching 50, he said, there are going to be significant health-related challenges. Most no longer need active treatment, but rather efforts to maintain health and quality of life, he said.

"For many of our individuals -- about 70 percent -- their needs have changed. Medical and physical needs are more important to them than training and treatment," he said.

To keep pace, Farrell said the office of Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom of the Department of Health and Human Services had made the decision that O'Berry convert some units to the new specialized nursing program concept.

"This will be a gradual transition. We'll start with one cluster, Cluster 2, because it's currently vacant, and will renovate that for our clients as a skilled nursing facility," he said.

The hope is to complete that by year's end and begin moving patients in. In subsequent years, three other clusters will be converted.

The bulk of the last year has been spent researching the process, assessing the cost, and getting approval, Farrell said.

He estimated the project costs in the neighborhood of $1 million per building, the bulk of the expense to add generators, fire sprinklers and electrical backup.

Farrell stressed no one is going to lose his or her job.

"We expect minimal changes to the staff. We're not going to lay anybody off. It will be a natural turnover," he said. "There will be some needs for additional positions like nurses, and less needs on things like teachers, but I'm not going to lay any teachers off."

Through attrition, when people retire, certain positions will simply be phased out, he explained.

"There has been some anxiety regarding our future role. There have been questions -- how will we fit into that? This resolves those questions and provides a clear direction for O'Berry's future," he said.

Farrell said he anticipates a positive reception by staff and families of O'Berry clients.

"The families that I have talked to, I think they'll receive this well. Many of them recognize their family members are changing. They want us to be positioned so that we'll be able to take care of them," he said.

Overall, he said he believes the plan will be beneficial for several reasons.

"It provides, frankly, a very exciting future for this center. With two centers in the east, eventually we wouldn't need those two centers," he said.

The transition, expected to take four years to come to fruition, "reflects the changing needs of the individuals," he said. "It also clearly defines the role for this center in the state system."