GOLDSBORO — A Lumberton resident and former CEO of Southeastern Regional Medical Center cut the ribbon this week on a facility that will eventually allow more Southeastern North Carolina residents to receive psychiatric care at Goldsboro’s Cherry Hospital.
Luckey Welsh, CEO of Cherry Hospital since 2012, served as SRMC’S chief administrator for 12 years before he retired from that position in 2007.
Welsh, who splits his time between Lumberton and Goldsboro, joined Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer at the ribbon cutting for the new Cherry Hospital on Tuesday. A pharmacist by training, Welsh joined SRMC in 1969 and served as the third chief executive officer of SRMC since its opened in 1953.
Welsh said the new facility will eventually increase Cherry Hospital’s bed capacity from 197 to 313 as staff can be hired to accommodate the additional patients. Later this month, staff will begin transferring patients from the old Cherry Hospital to the new facility.
“This hospital receives referrals from 38 counties in North Carolina, so we are the safety net mental health facility serving Eastern North Carolina. Specifically with Southeastern Regional Medical Center, we receive referrals from them and talk with them on a regular basis about receiving patients,” Welsh said.
McCrory toured the 410,000-square-foot facility Tuesday and Southeastern Health’s behavioral health director got a tour Wednesday, Welsh said.
According to Welsh, it is estimated that mental illness affects 20 percent of Americans, meaning 2 million North Carolinians suffer from depression to serious mental illness. About 3 percent of mental health patients are referred to state hospitals, he said.
“Our mission here is really to provide care for the seriously mentally ill whose needs cannot be met in outpatient care,” Welsh.
Cherry Hospital is one of few options available to such patients. There are two other state-run psychiatric hospitals in North Carolina, which serve other parts of the state. When beds at the old Cherry Hospital are full, as is often the case, patients in Southeastern North Carolina are likely to get stuck in expensive emergency rooms at their local hospitals “because there’s no place else to go,” Welsh said.
“There’s more mental illness here than the system can handle,” he said.
Having more beds in Goldsboro means more people throughout Southeastern North Carolina can get the care they need.
“We’re sort of the last hope many times for these patients,” Welsh said. “They come to us often without hope and our job is to help them on their road to recovery.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.