Last patients to leave Dorothea Dix in August

rchristensen@newsobserver.com April 4, 2012 

— – Dorothea Dix Hospital will close its doors to its last patients in August, the Council of State voted this morning, ending an era of treating the mentally ill that began in 1856.

State officials agreed to transfer the last 30 beds, including 22 patients, that are part of the forensic minimum security unit to Central Regional Hospital in Butner. It was expected to be the final step in what has been a decades-long process of closing the psychiatric hospital located just south of downtown Raleigh.

“It means for the patients that they will receive better, more comprehensive services when we are able to move them to Central,” said Albert Delia, acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “For the state it will mean we can save a little bit of money, just south of $300,000 per year. For the employees it will mean that almost all of them will continue to have the opportunity to be employed and to move either to Central or to another one of our facilities in the state.”

“I think for the state it is a win-win,” Delia added.

Although the action of the Council of State, a body composed of the top state-wide elected executive officials, was expected to be final, the state legislature still has the authority to delay the process if it chooses. The question now is what should be done with the property.

There are roughly 1,300 state employees working on the campus, all employees of the Department of Health and Human Services. Gov. Bev Perdue has joined with Raleigh leaders in voicing support for making the property a public park. In February, Perdue directed the Department of Administration to begin looking for new offices for the department.

“I personally support the concept of a park of some sort,” Perdue said. “I think with the population projections of Raleigh and the Triangle ... that we North Carolinians who value open space and the environment ought to be excited about saving a tract of land that will remain magnificent for thousands of years after all of us are long gone.’’

The property’s current market value is $60 million according to an appraisal.

In a related issue, there are negotiations between the state and GeoCare, a private firm located in Boca Raton Florida, for handling the state’s forensic patients. The legislature had instructed the state to examine privatization of the care of psychiatric patients who have been accused of crimes.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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