01/30/09 — Cherry on state list for cutbacks

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Cherry on state list for cutbacks

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 30, 2009 1:46 PM

Faced with a looming shortfall that's expected to hit $3 billion by the end of the fiscal year, state department heads were ordered earlier this month to present budget cut proposals of up to 7 percent to Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Included in the package put together by the Department of Health and Human Services, were cuts to two of the state's psychiatric hospitals -- Broughton and Cherry -- eliminating 25 beds from the adult services area at both.

If ultimately approved, such cuts would mean a savings of slightly more than $6 million, but also the loss of a combined 102 jobs.

It also would mean an increase on the pressures placed on local medical hospitals and on local law enforcement agencies.

However, department officials emphasized that these proposals are just starting points, and that the governor has already ordered them be reviewed and adjusted.

"These were drawn up before the new administration took over," department secretary Lanier Cansler said. "We took over on a Monday or Tuesday and they had to be over to the state budget office by Wednesday.

"I'm not real excited about any of this. Much of this has potential negative effects, and the governor's already said she's not happy."

But, he added, cuts will have to be made eventually.

"Obviously Health and Human Services is a major part of the budget, and we're going to have to take our share," he said.

He just hopes it won't be at the expense of patient care. And he hopes Cherry won't have to suffer because of those cuts.

"I'm hopeful not," he said. "We want to get the certification back at Cherry and get the staffing where it needs to be. That's our priority. We're trying to move in the right direction. We want to make sure we have enough beds to serve the people of North Carolina."

He also said that he does not foresee this situation -- whether cuts are made or not -- having a detrimental effect on the construction of a new Cherry Hospital.

"I don't see this as impacting that," he said. "That will continue to move forward. With the economic situation, I can't guarantee anything, but it's our intent to move forward."

Other pieces of the proposed $50 million reduction in mental health services involved the combining of the state's 24 local management entities into 14, and among other items, a reduction in funding to the state's three Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Centers.