New mental hospital gets first patients

A mental patient briefly escaped from John Umstead Hospital in Butner Monday as staff members were moving him to a new psychiatric hospital nearby.

According to a police report, the patient was being loaded onto a bus with other patients being transferred to Central Regional Hospital, a new $130 million building less than a mile away.

The patient stated he didn’t want to go to the new hospital and took off running.

Chief Wayne Hobgood of Butner Public Safety happened to be nearby and gave chase in his squad car. After about 300 yards, the patient quit running and surrendered to Hobgood and another officer who had arrived on scene.

The patient, who does not have a significant criminal record, was then transported by police to the new hospital.

Tom Lawrence, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, had told reporters Monday that the move of patients had gone without incident.

Questioned about that assertion Wednesday, Lawrence said the brief escape was so minor he saw no need to mention it. The hospital’s staff did not even produce a written report, he said.

The last of the 161 patients going from Umstead to Central Regional were moved Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, a staff member was injured by a patient at the new hospital, resulting in what may be a broken finger, Lawrence confirmed.

Employees at the new facility have complained about water dripping through the ceiling, safety alarms that don't work and doors that either automatically lock or unlock when they aren't supposed to.

The pay telephones located in the hospital for use by patients have not been working and a lack of serviceable water fountains has resulted in the distribution of bottled water to the patients.

Lawrence said the water leaks are from condensation collecting in the air-conditioning system. He said the problem with the panic alarms, worn by staff members, were the result of faulty processors and had been resolved more than two weeks ago. He also said they were working to fix the automatic door locks.

None of the problems are serious, he said, or should impact the operation of the new facility.