10/03/10 — Ground broken at Cherry for new hospital

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Ground broken at Cherry for new hospital

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 3, 2010 1:50 AM

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Gov. Beverly Perdue joined other dignitaries to perform a ceremonial groundbreaking inside the Cherry Hospital Auditorium after inclement weather forced everyone inside. The groundbreaking celebrated the construction of a new psychiatric hospital.

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Speaking in the Cherry Hospital auditorium Friday, Gov. Beverly Perdue said she has been promised that by March 2013, the eastern region's new psychiatric facility will be up and running.

And with that, a long row of state and local officials stuck their shovels into a trough full of dirt -- since the actual work site was too soggy because of a week's worth of rain -- taking the first tangible step in that direction.

"This is a milestone," Ms. Perdue said.

It's a project that has been a long-time coming -- one that former state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, spent the better part of the last decade advocating for, working to get and then keeping at the top of the state's capital construction priority list.

"It's important that we keep this in eastern North Carolina," Kerr said. "I think it's good. This is a great day for eastern North Carolina."

The current Cherry Hospital, which was established in 1880 and today serves 38 counties, is a campus spread out over multiple buildings and facilities, the youngest of which is 50 years old, and the oldest of which are 85 to 90 years old.

The new facility, which will be located at 1401 W. Ash St., about a half-mile from the current site next to the State Employees Credit Union, will be a single, three-story, 410,000-square-foot, 316-bed building, including residential patient care units, therapy and medical facilities and service and administrative support areas.

And for those people who have spent time at Cherry, that will be the biggest difference -- having everything under one roof.

"Given the current campus, so much of it is spread out, and that creates added issues that have to be dealt with," said Liston Edwards, former director from 1997 to 2005. "This will enhance patient care, safety, efficiency. I see it as a very positive move."

The project itself, though has come under some criticism recently, particularly from Disability Rights North Carolina, which complained that the money would be better spent on community care.

To that, Ms. Perdue agreed Friday that community care is still the primary goal.

"That's where my preference is, as it is for many patients and families in North Carolina," she said.

However, she also said the need for a safety net of state facilities does exist and will always exist, and that those patients -- often the sickest and most acute -- should be cared for in the best facilities possible.

"I believe there will always be a role for institutional care in the mental health system," the governor said. "These structures are relics of a time in which if you were in a mental health institution, you were going to be locked up and kept in a room."

And, she continued, as treatment and care have changed, so, too, should the facilities.

"The building that is going to be built here is state of the art," Mrs. Perdue said. "It's going to embody the model we all know works to help the mentally ill -- a place of hope, not a place of hopelessness; a place of healing, not a place of warehousing."

But, officials acknowledged Friday, just having a new facility isn't enough. There also has to be a proper level of care inside the hospital as well.

"We understand what's really important is not the building, it's the care going on inside," Mrs. Perdue said. "We are expected to treat (patients) with love and respect and the dignity people deserve."

And that, she said, means more training and teaching people "how to manage people and how to react, especially in situation where you're faced with some kind of violence."

Fortunately, those sorts of efforts are already ongoing at Cherry, Mrs. Perdue said.

"There's always going to be some kind of discontentment. There's always going to be a need for more training," she said. "I believe the climate at Cherry has changed. We all know conditions at Cherry Hospital are better than they were a year and a half ago when I took over."

It's progress that Lanier Cansler, state Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said officials hope to continue.

"We're trying to make a shift from the way things have always been done in the past," he said.

For example, he said, "For a long time there was a lot of use of chemical restraints at Cherry."

Today, the use of those is discouraged, and staff are instead being trained on how to use new methods of intervening and engaging with patients -- methods that some nurses say don't always work.

The key to making them work, however, Cansler said, is more aggressive training -- something the state Legislature has directed about $800,000 toward for all of the state's facilities.

"Training is a big piece of this. And we've got to train the trainers. We've got to be consistent, not just at Cherry, but at all the facilities," he said.

And while he said he would be more than willing to sit down with any staff member who has a concern about the new techniques or the way they are being implemented, the bottom line is that things are changing.

"If the way someone wants to do something is the way they did it in the past ... We can't keep doing things the same way and expect to get new outcomes," Cansler said. "We're looking toward the future, not toward the past."

Friday, he said, represents a part of that future.

"The new facility certainly can create an environment," he said. "The facility alone will not solve these issues we have. We have to train staff, have the right staff. We have to have the right leadership. This isn't a simple thing. Where we've been, we've been over a long period of time."

Now, officials said, it's just a matter of continuing the progress already made and waiting for the new facility to open.

"I am convinced we have the right people here. Our staff is working ... to improve our service to eastern North Carolina," hospital director Philip Cook said. "This is becoming a reality. We are extremely excited about this. There is no better or purer mission in health care than to provide care to those who need you most ... (and) this new hospital is necessary for fulfilling Cherry's mission."

Also on Friday, state officials touted the project's economic benefits. In addition to the 1,000 employees working at the facility itself, the construction of the hospital is expected to create an additional 650 jobs. Additionally, they noted that the $93.34 million project is under the $100 million budgeted, and that while the fate of the current facility hasn't yet been decided, they hope to use several buildings other department needs.