By: - November 25, 2008 1:15 pm

Could there possibly be more bad news about North Carolina’s mental hospitals? Between the beatings, the lethal neglect, and the improper restraining, it would seem we’ve covered all avenues of mistreatment. The sad fact is we probably don’t know the extent of what goes on because the people there are ill-equipped to report it all to us. Kudos to the N&O for doing as much as they can to keep it in front of us. Still, shouldn’t we just burn Cherry down and start over? That’s what I thought last week when I read about the patient who received no care – none – for the 22 hours before his death. Of course, the developments at Central Regional, our new hospital, don’t exactly inspire confidence in that facility, do they? Where to send our mentally ill? Where will they be cared for, properly and humanely?

In order to treat patients properly, we have to treat the hospital staff properly, and we haven’t done that. Our state hospitals are dangerously understaffed and, too often, poorly trained for the job we expect of them. As the latest employees in trouble over their actions have pointed out, they’re being blamed for management’s failures.

Patricia Swann, the nurse who was supervising the others, said the hospital was severely understaffed, with only herself and three health-care techs to cover a ward. When the restraint occurred, two workers had to rush over from a neighboring ward, leaving that part of the hospital understaffed.

This can’t be the best we can do. Is Bev Perdue paying attention? I know she’s busy meeting with business leaders (while her staff meets with regular people [note who’s more important]), but someone’s got to get on this. Our coming $3 billion shortfall (I love that! Whoever thought up ‘shortfall’ is an evil genius.) cannot be an excuse to let the mental health system continue rotting. Lives are at stake, and time’s a-wastin’. Let’s try to fill some of the 700 jobs that need filling in order for this state to have a viable mental health system. What if we filled them with professionals and paid them professional wages? Wouldn’t that be nuts? It’s a crazy dream, for sure. Look for mental health to be at approximately the bottom of the list when it comes to funding services in these lean times. Patients will continue to be mistreated and, possibly, die, but legislative leaders will be able to keep nattering on about balancing the budget without raising taxes.

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