05/28/06 — Cherry Hospital funds depend on House approval

View Archive

Cherry Hospital funds depend on House approval

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 28, 2006 2:07 AM

The North Carolina Senate has already given its approval of a proposal included in the new state budget that will help arrange the funds to build a new Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro.

Now the budget -- and the measure -- must pass through the N.C. House.

When, and if, they do, the $145.5 million plan will provide a much-needed renovation for the hospital, officials said.

Sen. John Kerr, D-District 5, said his legislative effort would contribute $20 million to complete the Central Region Psychiatric Hospital and $145.5 million for a new Cherry Hospital.

The money would be provided through Certificates of Participation bonds, which are not subject to a bond referendum. The state budget passed through the Senate quickly last week and should be on the House floor early this week.

State support to fix the problems at Cherry is something hospital officials have not seen in years, Cherry Hospital Director Jack Sinclair said.

Earlier this year, Kerr and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight toured the facility and, Kerr said, the problems were evident.

"If you take the tour, you can see the problems. There are shoddy rooms and the toilets are bad. That has got to be a tough situation to work in," he said.

The hospital's first structure was built in the 1880s, and Cherry Hospital hasn't had a new facility in about 60 years, Sinclair said. One area of the hospital's grounds, the food preparation room, doesn't have air conditioning.

Also, the age of the buildings is cause for many maintenance problems.

"With some of these buildings, moisture accumulates in the walls," Sinclair said. "The paint peels; we repaint the walls; but it still peels off. It's expensive upkeep and a constant."

Many of the patients at Cherry have an acute illness, such as bipolarism, depression or schizophrenia, and need special treatment, he said. So, patient safety is one of the most important issues at the hospital.

Some of the patients need to be protected from themselves or other patients and the current facilities can't provide that protection, Sinclair said.

"Some of our bathrooms are in bad condition and pose a suicide risk," he said.

Throughout the year, the hospital treats about 4,000 patients and has an average of about 280 patients on most days, Sinclair said. The hospital has about 1,100 employees to care for those patients.

Due to the curves and structure of in-patient hallways, the nurses are not able to monitor patients as well as they should, Sinclair said.

The hospital also doesn't have isolation areas to "aptly accommodate some patients' needs" and adequate treatment areas for one-on-one and group therapy, Sinclair said.

He added he would like to see a new building with single rooms for patients instead of three or four of them living in the same room and other accommodations that would improve patient care.

The hospital, if constructed, would serve as the new Eastern Region Psychiatric Hospital, Kerr said.

Sinclair said the hospital currently serves the entire 33-county region of eastern North Carolina. This would continue with a new hospital, but state officials are considering a change to psychiatric hospitals throughout North Carolina.

The state is divided into four regions with psychiatric hospitals in Burke County, Wayne County and two in the central part of the state, Sinclair said. The regional change would combine the two central hospitals and build two other hospitals to provide better service for the western and eastern parts of the state, he said.

The research for building these facilities determined that each hospital should take a state-of-the-art approach to treatment and use the latest technology, Sinclair said.

If constructed, the hospital would have a central building connected to residential living pods by corridors. The pods would be tiered in two- or three-story housing units with each pod having the necessary amount of employees and equipment to serve the patients, Sinclair said.

Also, the structure would allow for better supervision and observation of patients within the pods. After calculating the region's growth in the next 20 years, Sinclair said he determined a new facility would need 304 beds to accommodate patients.

Kerr said the hospital has been a staple of Goldsboro for generations and should continue to be so well into the future.

"There are a large number of jobs there, and it's very important for Cherry to stay in Wayne County. We can't afford to lose it to someone else," he said.