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NC Department of Health and Human Services

DHHS Secretary Takes Action for Patient Care at Cherry Hospital, Goldsboro

Release Date: August 22, 2008
Contact: Tom Lawrence, 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – Lapses in patient safety and substandard care will not be tolerated, DHHS Secretary Dempsey Benton, said Friday.

“On behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services and myself personally, we deeply regret that Mr. Sabock died, and that it occurred while a patient at Cherry Hospital,” he said.  “The Department finds the circumstances related to this tragic death at Cherry Hospital completely unacceptable.”

Benton announced that effective today, the adult admissions ward on which the incident occurred is closed. The 16 Cherry Hospital staff members on duty during the time of the incident have been removed from direct patient care duties and given other assignments for a period of no less than 60 days.  During this period, these employees will be given additional training and re-education until they are deemed prepared by the hospital director to be ready to re-assume patient care under the supervision of a training director. 

While noting that the hospital director and staff have been working to improve overall quality of care, Benton is not satisfied with the level of follow-up after the events including the evaluation and corrective actions undertaken. He has directed that the hospital’s standards manager, who is responsible for internal investigation of patient incidents and developing plans of correction, be reassigned to other duties.

“Closing this ward reduces the adult admissions section from 90 beds to 67. I want to stress that I believe the actions of these staff members is not indicative of the entire staff at Cherry Hospital who daily provide excellent care to the patients they serve. Those staff not involved in the failure to respond to the patient’s needs will be reassigned to the three remaining units.”

The ward closure allows the hospital to have two registered nurses on the remaining three wards for each shift. Benton said that staffing by two RNs per shift is now a standard for adult admissions wards. He added that the Department will look into whether all or part of the closed ward can be re-opened if it can meet the two-nurse requirement.

Furthermore, Benton outlined the steps he is requiring from the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Section as well as Cherry Hospital relating to patient care and safety. 

“The state will provide on-going external management oversight for the next 90 days. This will involve a team of six professionals, including a medical doctor, who will monitor the wards for proper documentation of patient care, increasing training on treatment protocols and assisting in training that will improve the quality of supervision and nursing care for patients.”

Benton noted that the changes he has initiated will reduce Cherry Hospital’s overall bed capacity from 274 to 251. He has directed that these new capacity levels not be exceeded. He has directed his staff to assess the level of bed capacity which can be provided within the number of staff the hospital is authorized and that can safely deliver quality care and adequate supervision. He wants them to report to him within 60 days.

Staff will consult with the Local Management Entities (LMEs) within the hospital’s service area since these agencies are responsible for reviewing an individual’s initial treatment needs and whether a person is referred to a hospital or other type of treatment facility in the region.

He also noted that during the recent legislative session, DHHS received funding for 75 of the 180 community capacity beds it sought, which would allow patients to be treated in their communities rather than in a regional state facility. Benton said the state will be actively pursuing contracts with community hospitals to get these beds operational and that approximately 25 would be located in the Cherry Hospital service area which will help moderate the impact of the Cherry Hospital bed reductions.

Cherry Hospital is located Goldsboro and serves the citizens of 36 eastern counties. It serves more than 2,700 people per year and employs 1,136.


Updated: October 14, 2008