Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mental Health Beds At Standstill

Mental Health Beds At Standstill

Brian Haney
Daily Record Reporter
Friday, September 19, 2008

The Good Hope Hospital Board has run into a wall in its efforts to bring 16 in-patient mental health beds to the former hospital facility in Erwin.

That wall, according to the board's Vice Chairman Pat Cameron and Harnett County Commissioner Gary House, is the North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation, which is now insisting the board needs to apply for a new Certificate of Need to operate the mental health beds."It's the most frustrating thing," said Mr. Cameron, who was part of a delegation which met with the head of Health Service Regulation (formerly Facility Services) in Raleigh in the summer of 2007.

At that meeting, Mr. Cameron said the delegation asked specifically what it would take to secure a license to operate the mental health beds at the Erwin facility."We were assured there would be no problem," Mr. Cameron said. "We currently have a 2001 Certificate of Need for 12 beds and we were told we could transfer four additional beds from the closure of (Dorothea) Dix."Within the past several months, Mr. Cameron said, the state made a 180-degree turn and went back on its word."They changed their minds right before we went to tear down the walls and get started," Commissioner House added.

Recently, representatives from Good Hope met with N.C. Rep. David Lewis, Jimmy Love Sr. and Verla Insko, and with a representative from the Division of Health Service Regulation to determine why the license was being held up and to attempt a resolution in the matter.
Mr. Cameron said he and his fellow board members were told the quickest way to reinstate mental health beds in Erwin would be to write a letter requesting that 16 of the 29 beds licensed, which the board contends the state wrongfully revoked after the hospital closed in 2006, be reinstated.

"We sent the letter in July," he said, "and we have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply to our letter. That tells us the state has no interest in helping this community develop mental health beds. They've thrown up every barrier possible to deny us the ability to move forward with a project this area needs so desperately.""Just one signature, one stroke of the pen could restore the beds and we could move forward," said Mr. Cameron, "but the state won't respond to a letter they, themselves asked us to write."

Jim Jones, a representative with the Department of Health and Human Services Public Affairs office, said after speaking with the acting director of the Division of Health Service Regulation, he could only disclose that "they have spoken with their attorneys regarding a settlement, but they cannot comment further."

'A Tremendous Problem'

There is little doubt mental health care across the state has developed into a crisis. In a recent televised debate, both candidates running for N.C. governor were asked what they would do to alleviate the situation.

"It's a tremendous problem," said Mr. Cameron, "not only for North Carolina, but for Harnett County."Capt. Bill Grady who manages the Harnett County Jail said people who might be better served in a mental health facility are brought to the jail when they commit crimes or have charges brought against them, "and we have no recourses but to take them."If we had a mental hospital, such as Good Hope did, they could be placed there," he said. "That would be a better avenue for them versus coming to jail."

Other local groups have acknowledged the need for something to be done. At a recent board meeting, the Harnett County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of support for the Good Hope Board in its endeavor to put mental health beds in the county.Harnett Health Systems, which includes Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital and is currently at odds with the Good Hope Board over the right to construct a new hospital in Harnett County, has expressed its support of Good Hope's efforts to reopen mental health beds in the county and sent a letter to the state saying so.

Down But Not Out

For now, the Good Hope Board has found itself with few options. While an application for a new Certificate of Need has been prepared, the board has not filed it."We felt like it would be a futile process that would cost the taxpayers $30,000," said Mr. Cameron. "Sure we could have filed, but look at it historically. We haven't had a fair review of anything we've sent up there."The worst part of it all, he said, is that it looks like the board has just given up, which he insists it hasn't.

Mr. Cameron said the board has not ruled out filing again in December, its next opportunity. "The Good Hope Board has tried everything possible to continue to serve the community and try to bring in services no one else is going to bring," he said. "We are definitely still interested in opening the beds. We just need to have some better cooperation from the state."Ultimately, he said, "it's time everybody put our differences aside and do what's right."

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