McCrory helps cut ribbon on Goldsboro’s Cherry Hospital

(Robert Richardson/CBS North Carolina)

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — A multi-million dollar psychiatric hospital will welcome hundreds of North Carolina patients starting in September.

Construction on the 313 bed Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro began in 2010 with the intention of opening in 2013, but building delays pushed back completion to this year.

There are currently more than 1,000 employees, and CEO Luckey Welsh said the goal is a full staff of 1,357.

“We’ve got to have the physicians and the nurses and the social workers to staff this. Our challenge will be over the coming years to really find the staff, bring them on, and get them here, and to retain them,” Welsh said.

“It isn’t all about recruiting, it’s keeping them here. I really believe once they come in the doors of Cherry Hospital and work with the people, we won’t have problems keeping them.”

Governor Pat McCrory and the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services joined Welsh at the hospital Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting dedication ceremony.

The large three-story building covers more than 400,000 square feet and cost more than $138 million. It will provide specialized psychiatric rehabilitation for 104 patients at a time, in addition to about 200 other youth, adults, and seniors at a time.

Cherry Hospital’s older facility in Goldsboro has fewer than 200 beds. The city’s history of treating people with mental illness dates back to 1880 at a facility named the Asylum for the Colored Insane, which treated African-Americans. The psychiatric hospital became integrated in 1965.

Governor McCrory said North Carolina made progress by getting rid of the insensitive terminology and segregation, but he said there is still a lot of work to do for acceptance of mental illness.

“We’re not going to sweep the issue of mental health behind the curtain anymore. We’re exposing the issue of mental health to the general public,” McCrory said.

“The change in paradigm that this society has to accept is that mental health is no different from physical health. We need to expose the issue and recognize the long term impact it has on our communities, our state, and on humanity.”

Rick Brajer, the governor’s Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said it’s important to take away the stigma of mental health. He said treatment can also play a role in improving other issues, such as crime, and wants to guide some people through the mental health system instead of the criminal justice system.

“A high percentage, I think it’s roughly 20 percent of our prison population, has a diagnosed mental health issue. Therefore let’s get them to the treatment that they need, let’s not criminalize it,” Brajer said.

Administrators said they want Cherry Hospital to be North Carolina’s premier place for hope, care, and recovery.

“Our goal is to have this be a temporary stay for those who are dealing with mental illness or addiction issues.  Our goal is to get them back into the life of their family, and their neighborhood and work and to become productive citizens,” McCrory said.

Patients will begin moving to the new complex September 27.

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