Under the Dome

Dix to stay open, sign of failed reform

After working for nearly a decade to close Dorothea Dix Hospital, state mental health administrators now intend to keep a sizable number of staff and patients at the aging Raleigh facility for years.

Lanier Cansler, secretary for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said this week that he plans to move about half of Dix's more than 200 patients to Central Regional Hospital in Butner when it opens fully in October.

But he said Dix will remain open as a stand-alone psychiatric hospital, with its own director and administrative staff. It will no longer serve as a satellite campus for the new Butner facility.

State legislators affirmed that decision earlier this month when they approved a state budget that restored $6 million in funding for operations at Dix for the next year. That move came as legislators made $155 million in spending cuts for other mental health programs in the 2010 budget.

The move to continue operating Dix as a state mental hospital will hamper efforts to turn the more than 300 acres between downtown Raleigh and N.C. State University into a major park operated by the City of Raleigh or a nonprofit foundation.

It also offers evidence that the sweeping 2001 mental health reform plan has failed. A centerpiece of that effort, which was passed by the legislature and carried out by the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley, was a plan to reduce the need for beds at mental hospitals. Instead, there would be more private, community-based treatment. (N&O)

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