For Dix campus, put patients’ needs first

By Barbara Goodmon

I have spent two years on the Mental Health Study Commission, discussing what should be done with Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh.

During this time, Dix patients have been steadily released to whomever would take them.

The people on the commission gave a lot of time and thought to this subject. In the end, there were a number of ideas, but no consensus.

But now a new voice with an entirely new opinion has entered the picture – Gov. Mike Easley.

Easley, who approved the formation of this commission, has put in his budget $173 million in bond money to build a state-of-the-art office complex for 3,400 state human services employees on the Dix campus.

I have a better idea: Let’s move the employees to Butner and build a state-of-the art hospital for the patients on the Dix campus. This hospital could be woven into a plan for a state-of–the-art park.

This idea seems reasonable for several reasons:

First, I have always thought that patients’ needs come first. The Dix campus has been doing an excellent job of serving patients and their families for 150 years.

Second, in another 150 years, the Dix campus as a mix of park and hospital will still be serving the needs of its citizens. Our successors will thank us for our vision. I do not see a state government building having that kind of long term impact.

Third, building a new hospital is the right thing to do. The mentally ill and their families need to be part of our community, not feeling like they are disenfranchised.

Furthermore, it is a lot easier for state employees than for family members and law enforcement officers to drive to Butner on a regular basis.

The next time I am asked to sit on a government study commission, please be sure that all ideas are on the table. It could have changed the way the discussion went.

At this stage in the process, Easley’s suggestion has only complicated this sensitive issue even further.

There are two important ideas we need to keep in mind as we move along — long-term vision and compassion for our mentally ill citizens. These often get lost in the heat of the discussions.

Barbara Goodmon is president of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

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