mental hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, Cherry Hospital
Karl DeBlaker/AP
This is the exterior of the cottage, on the grounds of Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, N.C.

State Mental Hospitals Struggle With Patient Safety

September 09, 2008 05:57 AM
by Emily Coakley
Deaths at state mental hospitals in Kentucky and North Carolina have led the federal government to revoke funding; similar problems plague other state institutions.

‘No need for people to live in institutions’

State mental hospitals in Kentucky and North Carolina have been criticized after patient deaths.

North Carolina officials closed one ward at Cherry Hospital after 50-year-old patient Steven Sabock died, the Raleigh News-Observer reported. North Carolina has two other state mental hospitals, and other parts of Cherry remain open.

The “ailing patient” sat in a chair for 22 hours without food and without using the bathroom, while negligent staff members watched television and played cards in the same room. Sabock’s death was captured on video.
Federal investigators recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pull its funding from Cherry, which would amount to approximately $800,000 each month, reports the Fayetteville Observer.

Bluegrass Communities, a state-run mental health institution in Kentucky, already lost its federal funding—approximately $60 million annually—in May, the Associated Press reports. State officials aren’t planning to close the hospital, and have decided to bear the $78 million annual cost of operating Bluegrass, despite the fact the state is having budget shortfall problems. The state has reapplied for federal funds.

Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, told people who live near Bluegrass Communities, “I want to be very clear, our total focus and 110 percent of our effort right now is to try to make sure that we get Oakwood recertified,” the AP quoted him as saying.

Other psychiatric hospitals throughout the country are struggling. Two hospitals in Chicago have lost federal funding because of patient care concerns, according to the AP.

The U.S. Department of Justice is going to investigate Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in southern New Jersey. According to the Cherry Hill Courier-Post: “The investigation will focus on whether patients are safe from harm at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.”

Some say state mental health hospitals are obsolete.

“There is no need for people to live in institutions. It’s extraordinarily harmful to people,” said Peter Berns, executive director of The Arc of the United States, an advocacy group for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Many states have closed their institutions and moved residents to their own communities, where they get treatment and other services.

Opinion & Analysis: Fixing N.C.’s mental health system

An editorial in the Wilmington Star-News said North Carolina’s mental health system needed to be torn down and started again

“Extreme? Maybe. But the care of mentally ill and developmentally disabled people in this state is a basket case of extremes: extreme incompetence, extreme waste and, in the case of Cherry Hospital employees who couldn’t interrupt their card game to bother with a patient who died after sitting in a chair for 22 hours, extreme indifference,” the editorial said.

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