Jim Fulghum: Dix money should help fund mental health

March 30, 2013 

Money should help fund mental health

Regarding the March 26 front-page article “Dix park supporters jam public hearing” about the proposed nullification of the Dorothea Dix lease: I’d like to express my disappointment about some comments made during the public hearing that were quoted in the article and echoed in your March 27 editorial “Not a done deal.”

A city leader and Dix park advocate stated during the hearing that “the new concern about mental health is just a smoke-screen.” He continued, “If you really care about mental health, fund it properly, including funds from this lease.”

As a public servant and physician, I find these comments utterly offensive. To insinuate that those of us who have spoken about the critical need for psychiatric beds in the same breath as the Dorothea Dix property are somehow “spinning” the issue or creating a diversion in order to line the pockets of developers does a terrible disservice to the difficult and often thankless work of mental health professionals and advocates, not to mention to those among us who can’t speak for themselves regarding their fate in this process.

In the past two decades, this state has closed over 60 percent of our public psychiatric beds, including 100 percent of the beds at Dix. Today, patients with a mental health crisis are waiting an average of three days in general hospital emergency rooms, while roughly one-half of our prison population suffers from some sort of mental illness. If we were to fund this problem “properly, including funds from this lease,” as the advocate stated, the current lease agreement with the City of Raleigh would amount to a drop in the bucket, accompanied by the relentless drip of state funds in support of “deinstitutionalization.”

We cannot and should not de-couple the need for mental health beds, the potential use of space within the current Dix structures and the acquisition of this beautiful land for the purpose of recreational space. There must be middle ground.

As a lifelong Raleigh resident, I strongly oppose commercial or residential development of the 320 green acres of the Dix property. I recognize that the concept of a “Central Park” is one that was conceived thoughtfully and meticulously by a coalition of leaders with a commendable vision. Further, I oppose the Senate bill in its current form, which was borne out of an effort that seemed to exclude input from members of the Wake delegation.

Nevertheless, I strongly submit that the lease with the City of Raleigh should be reworked to fulfill the mission of another revered community leader with a commendable vision, Dorothea Dix.

Rep. Jim Fulghum, Raleigh

The writer, a Republican, represents N.C. House District 49. The length limit was waived to allow for his full response.

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