05/22/06 — Kerr legislation proposes millions for Cherry

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Kerr legislation proposes millions for Cherry

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 22, 2006 1:50 PM

Legislation introduced Thursday could result in Cherry Hospital being one of two psychiatric hospitals in the state to get new facilities.

North Carolina Sen. John Kerr III, D-District 5, introduced the legislation at the General Assembly. The bill would provide funding worth $310 million for construction to hospitals in Goldsboro and Morganton.

The legislation was presented as two Senate bills co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Nesbit Jr., D-District 49.

"I saw the opportunity, and I decided to take it," Kerr said. "I think it can happen, but there are a lot of demands out there."

Before the most recent session began, legislators were informed that the state had more than $2 billion in surplus, and many legislators are introducing bills to spend some of the available money.

"There are millions and millions of good ideas, but we can't do them all," Kerr said.

He added this is an issue that he has been working on for the past eight years, and he will be informing the public of the problems at current psychiatric hospitals so new hospitals can be constructed in the future.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, director of Cherry Hospital, said Kerr and Sen. Mark Basnight paid a visit to Cherry several months ago to see the conditions there.

"They indicated in the coming short session of the General Assembly, it would be at or near the top of their list of recommendations," he said this morning.

"As I understand, what's being envisioned for the two hospitals is that they would be designed and constructed similarly to the one being built in Butner. It's a state-of-the-art facility," he said.

The funding would support the Department of Health and Human Services plan for there to be three psychiatric hospitals across the state, St. Clair said. The state had decided to consolidate services in the central part of the state, with the long-range plan to build two other hospitals, in the eastern and western parts of the state.

Cherry Hospital is an aged facility, built in 1880, so the new construction would be most welcome, St. Clair said.

"I'm excited. We're all excited about the possibility of getting the funding," he said. "It would make things so much better for patients and staff here. We're occupying old buildings that do not lend themselves to effective and efficient care."

A new facility would also afford Cherry with a more efficient way to deliver services, he said.

Kerr said that the new hospital buildings could be funded through money in the general fund, loans or a combination of the two. He added that the bills have not gone through the Senate yet, but should be on the House floor next week.

"It's somewhat of a long shot, but I think it's something we can pull off," Kerr said.