12/14/08 — St. Clair leaving Cherry Hospital

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St. Clair leaving Cherry Hospital

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 14, 2008 2:00 AM

Dr. Jack St. Clair, director of Cherry Hospital, will end his tenure at the state-run psychiatric facility Dec. 31.

Announced Friday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, St. Clair's departure is the latest development since the hospital lost its federal Medicare and Medicaid funding in September.

In a written news release, department secretary Dempsey Benton said that it was St. Clair who indicated his desire to step down from the post that he has occupied since December 2005.

"As I understand it, it was his decision," department spokesman Tom Lawrence said.

St. Clair, however, declined Friday to comment on the announcement, and Benton could not be reached.

And while the search for a replacement has already begun, with the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services starting the process to advertise for the chief administrator position, Lawrence said he expected the search would take some time.

"These kinds of folks are hard to find. It'll probably be a nationwide search," he said.

In the meantime -- at least for the next few months -- The Compass Group, the independent management team brought in in October, will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the facility.

How St. Clair's departure will affect the efforts made already, however, is not yet known, Lawrence said.

"That would be hard to say. Dr. St. Clair has made some improvements in the time he has been there, and improvements continue to be made, but as to whether this will slow things down or enhance them, that's really hard to measure," he said.

The Compass Group was brought in after Cherry had its federal certification revoked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid because of problems with patient care after Steven Sabock died after being left unattended while sitting in a dayroom.

And while three of the staff members involved in that incident have been fired, the others otherwise disciplined, and new safeguards put into place, Compass is still working to find ways to improve the hospital. Currently the state pays the hospital $800,000 a month to make up for the lost federal revenues.

According to the release, St. Clair has been offered a transfer to a business manager position with the Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center in Black Mountain, where he worked as the director previously, from about 1985 to 1994.