Dix Closing is Raleigh’s Loss

Dix Closing is Raleigh’s Loss

November, 10, 2010, by Peter Eichenberger

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Raleigh’s position as as the social political center of North Carolina for more than two centuries, has been challenged but never surpassed. Great movements of people and ideas, some not so pleasant, have been a part of the capital city since its founding. Our somewhat odd, self-assured little city has been the scene of triumph and tragedy, parades and invasions. Through most of it, Dorothea Dix hospital aka “Dix Hill” has provided what many would submit as a touchstone of a civilized society, a presence whose existence was just one facet of a crusade that originally moved the itinerant spokeswoman for the mentally afflicted to alternately shame and cajole state legislator until they were moved to found the institution. Dix’s simple plea/demand rested on a central pillar that no place that considers itself civilized can be truly judged so in the absence of proper medical treatment for all its people.

Prior to Dix’s appearance the mentally/neurologically challenged had an (especially) tough row to hoe. Derided, rejected and scorned by polite society, those lacking a support system who were afflicted by maladies other those of an obvious physical sort were mostly on their own. Contemporary mores and fears of the unknown set a pattern of removal and incarceration in places of punishment and separation, often jails or prisons where abuse and physical punishment were what passed as normal practice. Needless to say, the problems created by the pattern exacerbated the toll on incarcerees and on society both in spirit and cost to the public. Today, our supposedly mature, enlightened society is witnessing an unfortunate shift, a reversion to the patterns of the past.

I live in Boylan Heights, the neighborhood whose location affords a splendid view of the backsliding we as a society seem to be facing. I have been here off and on for decades and have utilized BoHo’s location as an easy laugh line that provided adequate directions for many visitors: “between the penitentiary and the nut house,” a good-natured jab that has lost most of the humor and serves solely as a locational cue. The mile post was set when a new Department of Corrections prison hospital and psych unit began to rise mysteriously unannounced from the earth oddly concurrent with the public announcement of the final closure schedule for Dix. Suddenly we began to witness the undoing of over a century of the enlightened goals of Ms. Dix as well as society.

Possessed of a juxtaposition far to too tragic for inclusion in the irony column, the region’s sole source for mental emergencies and ongoing care for those with head problems is seemingly to the casual observer being literally replaced locally by an institution that bespeaks what Dix dedicated her life to altering, a place whose institutional core screams punishment rather than treatment (although I am certain that the state has all manner of figures and verbiage lined up to dispute that.) The obvious is extent in an unintended (one would hope) psychological message backed by physical reality.

This is serious stuff, y’all. DHHS’s decision to move the remaining patients and employees will strike a blow to the heart of the area, not just to the patients but to the very gestalt of Raleigh. It has been some time since “Dix Hill” set aside days to allow the more functioning patients out to wander around the city but even with that absence having all types of people contributing, even unconsciously, to a society is one central icon of what a fully balanced society should strive for. See, I have a special interest that transcends matters of geography and real estate. I am one of the tribe now. In Dorothea Dix’s time the seizures, visions and, um, notions that are artifacts of my nearly fatal traumatic brain injury 5 years ago would have given good reason for me to be up on the Hill. Even though changes in assessment have (perhaps) denied me qualification (technically) as a “nut-job,” I feel a sense of solidarity and unity with those who do. And were the balance tipped further to the degree that I required hospitalization, the thought of being exiled to the wilds of Granville county at Butner does not engender healthy, positive feelings. Just the presence of others in ones own immediate vicinity engenders constructive, healthy feeling of inclusion, both for patients but more, for the city. Everyone deserves a seat at the table of society instead of exclusion and segregation. The choice and results are stark and present. I won’t even go into the money involved, something that should concern those paying for it, the taxpayer and those with their hands on the purse strings, legislators and administrators. This is an issue that could serve to form a bridge amid this fractious, politically hysterical milieu.
The only thing we can do, you can do, is to be a part of the growing number of people from all political stripes and socio/economic classes who have and are banding together on the issue. Let your legislators, state and city officials know how important Dix is and how strongly you feel about it keeping the facility where it is, for the people and the memory of Ms Dix. It may be too late but maybe, just maybe …

Read more on Peter Eichenberger’s personal blog: http://petrblt.wordpress.com/

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Ptrblt, Other posts by Peter Eichenberger.


Dorothea DixDix 306


  • JT#2
    11/10 08:24 PM

    Exactly how does closing an aging and sprawling mental health facility (who’s maintenance budget is a strain on the State budget I might add) and relocating patients to a brand new facility translate into reduced care for patients?  Is Dix the ONLY hospital where those in need can get treatment?  Of course not.  Should the State keep Dix open for nostalgia sake?  The arguement to keep Dix open is mind boggling to me.

  • Oakie
    11/10 09:28 PM

    JT - ummmm…so you think it’s okay that everyone requiring advanced mental services has to travel all the way to either Goldsboro or Butner…really? That sounds okay to you? I don’t think the problem is the physical closing of Dix itself. Mental health practices have changed dramatically since it was built, and since the state is allowing it to completely fall down, I would frankly rather see the campus rehabbed and reused. But the fact that there is no home for those patients LOCALLY is something I have a BIG problem with.

    And I guess you didn’t see the article a couple of weeks ago where Donny Harrison was b!tchin about how many thousands of hours the the WC Sherriff’s Department spends each year transporting patients to Butner instead of doing the things they are actually really needed to do - and I shudder to think about how much that transportation is costing us…it’s okay with you that Wake County absorbs what the state can no longer afford? I’m sorry, but I think that’s just messed up…

    And do you realize that even though Butner is a “brand new” facility - it’s already filled to overflowing?!?! There aren’t enough damn beds for all the patients who require its services! So much for a successful consolidation…

    I dare say the issues are a bit more complicated than “nostalgia”...my mind is pretty boggled too -

  • JT#2
    11/11 08:44 AM

    Are you really claiming that all who require mental health services live in Raleigh?  Obviously you haven’t considered that Butler or Goldsboro may actually be closer for many patients and family.  And you wish the State woudl rehab a 300 acre facility with crumbling buildings and infrastructure to treat a few overflow patients from two newer facilities to save transportation costs???  That makes sense…

  • arthurb3
    11/11 10:48 AM

    With proper planing, creation of paths and parking areas, and areas to protect great views (the view of downtown from the hospital is spectacular) this could be a great park. Keep retail out of it and the real estate investors away. The historic building should be used for meetings or the like.

  • Bruce
    11/11 04:44 PM

    Will there/is there a museum?  anyone planning any walk throughs or guided tours?

  • Ethel
    11/11 06:17 PM

    JT, you will be taking back what you are saying once you see all the homeless wondering in the street that were discharged from Dix with no where to go….the money will now just be shifted to all the Emergency Room visits and putting bandaids on all the gaps in the system.  There is no where for these vulnerable people to go, just go visit your local homeless shelter one day and actually talk to someone about their life, then come back and make a comment.

  • Oakie
    11/11 09:07 PM

    JT - I don’t think I “claimed” anything - but the fact that both Dix AND Umstead have closed/are closing within just a few years of each other, leaving just TWO hospitals to serve the entire state is hardly sufficient. And the fact that the new “be-all-end-all-modern” hospital in Butner is already overcrowded is beyond ridiculous. Besides the thousands of dollars WC throws down the tubes to transport patients each year, I’d be pretty okay with it if they could adequately provide for what’s needed, but that they were overflowing, oh, say, just a few MONTHS after opening (after they spent how many millions to build?) is absolutely unconscionable. If the budget tenor wasn’t already so grave, believe you me we’d already be hearing about the need for an “expansion”. Just because a bunch of jackholes haven’t adequately planned for what’s truly needed doesn’t mean that the “need” disappears. I’m sorry, but I don’t think WC or Raleigh or Durham should be paying through the nose just through just because the state can’t get their sh!t together! And I am most certain that while there are people with serious mental issues who live in every community big and small across the state, it isn’t rocket science to realize that if those folks can’t get what they need in Podunk, NC, they’re gonna be making their way to the city.

    And you need to actually READ what I said - no where did I say the STATE should rehab the campus - as far as I’m concerned, the state should stay as far the hell away from that gorgeous place as possible. Anyone who saw the trashy mess they left along Blount and Person Streets after they cleared out of what was once the premier address in Raleigh is shameful. And that was the State Historic Preservation Office who managed most of those houses…

    I absolutely agree with Ethel - you need to get out and - gasp - hang out more in downtown Raleigh or Durham instead of your dad’s basement in Apex’s…as someone who lives in the thick of downtown Raleigh, I can assure you there are most definitely serious needs…

  • JT#2
    11/12 10:34 AM

    Actually I live a stones throw away from Dix folks and am more qualified to speak about conditions in downtown Raleigh than any of you.  If you all want to complain about the mental health system as a whole as you appear to be doing, by all means, go right ahead.  I am only speaking to the main point of ptrblt’s diatribe which is Dix should not be closed.  Closing Dix does not guarantee reduced care for patients, doesn’t create a hardship for the majority of patient’s families, would save a greater sum of money than would be spent transporting Wake County patients less than 60 miles to either Butner or Goldsboro, and as previously stated, not all patients and family members even live in Wake County.  End of story.

  • Harry Seaward
    11/12 11:14 AM

    you said dix.

    11/12 01:00 PM

    Tear it down, build some brand new mixed use developments.  Screw a park.  Raleigh already has plenty of parks.  Maybe keep half of it a park but any more than that would be a waste.

  • Jon
    11/12 06:28 PM

    When you think of the future of this area and the eventual build up of development in and all around downtown Raleigh and what that might look like, the idea of a BIG GREEN park space set aside in the middle of it seems mighty pleasing to me. Let’s create a special place for a city that, though loved, does not yet have one.

  • Sherman King of Streets
    11/12 08:12 PM

    Dorothea Dix was recently rated as the top hospital in the state and we are closing it.  For almost 100 years we have had the mentally ill bussed, cabbed, and driven to our city and now, they are being released onto the streets. There are 4 beds lost every week.  Our shelters are full or run by corrupt individuals not equipped to deal with the massive numbers of people in desperate need of respite care.
      Has anyone heard of the convicted murderer that has been released and currently walks the the streets of our fair city? He bludgeoned his mother with a brick, and now because he has managed to fall through the cracks, he walks the streets of Raleigh, un-medicated.

    As a society we have let our brothers and sisters down.

  • MarkyMark
    11/12 08:12 PM

    They should turn it into a park.  That way the “Uncle Rico” guy that talks to himself and throws a football at people in Moore Square would have more room to throw his football.

  • Oakie
    11/13 05:04 PM

    JT - I’m sorry, but I don’t even know how to respond to you - you’re just a Grade A idiot - has nothing to do with a difference of opinion. And super scary to think that we are likely close neighbors - you who “are more qualified to speak about conditions in downtown Raleigh than any of you.” Yuck.

  • matt
    11/14 09:52 AM

    And anyone who ends his own repulsively self-righteous post with “End Of Story” is beyond our listening to anyway.

  • JP
    11/15 12:59 AM

    I’d wager that most people and myself included, out of sheer ignorance, don’t recognize most of the good effects of Dix. That’s why it’s probably very unlikely to find a bunch of support of this view. Personally I’m looking forward to this becoming a park, since I can see the tangible benefit of that.

    And as right as many of your arguments may be, it sounds pretty selfish really. “the thought of being exiled to the wilds of Granville county at Butner does not engender healthy, positive feelings” That’s pretty offensive to the people who live there in my opinion. Have you been there before? Butner is about the same distance from Raleigh as Carrboro, Benson and Pittsboro. It’s not that far, and there are neighbors. It’s just not in your backyard. I’ll freely admit my ignorance here, since I’m not personally affected by these issues. It is an interesting topic worthy of discourse.

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