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Completion Nears for Cape Fear Valley’s Dorothea Dix Care Unit for Adolescents



BY KIM HASTY, November 2021


While making her daily rounds on the fifth floor at Cape Fear Medical Center, child psychiatrist Sree Jadapalle, M.D., has been able to look out the window and watch as construction at street level below has progressed over the past year.

“It’s a really cool view,” she said. “And it’s been really quick.”

The clearing of the land, the sturdy steel-beam framework, the drywall and, soon, fresh coats of paint and comfortable furniture in soothing colors will combine to result in an anticipated December opening for the Dorothea Dix Care Unit for Adolescents at Cape Fear Valley, just over a year since the medical center broke ground on the facility in November 2020.

For parents of an adolescent experiencing a mental health crisis, all those things represent security and hope. The idea of the center is years in the making, a longtime mutual goal of Ken Fleishman, M.D., who is one of four board-certified child psychiatrists with Cape Fear Valley Health, and John Bigger, who is Corporate Director of Cape Fear Valley Health’s Behavioral Health and Sleep Center. Jadapalle will serve as the psychiatrist in charge of the services provided on the unit.

“There is a huge need for this,” said Dr. Fleishman, who serves as medical director for psychiatry and behavioral health for Cape Fear Valley. “It will be a huge asset. And it will give us the opportunity to train younger child psychiatrists through offering a two-year fellowship in a new Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency program.”

Although the need is great for inpatient treatment for adolescents in Cumberland County, the cost of the center could have been prohibitive. Bigger said the Division of Health and Human Services through the Department of Mental Health saw the need and helped with funding. The 16-bed facility, located beside the Behavioral Health Care Center on the medical center campus, also will feature a secure outdoor recreational area.

“It will be one of the coolest features of the whole thing,” Bigger said. “Basketball courts and corn hole and a recreational therapist to teach kids how to deal with downtime.”

The center will house patients ages 13 to 17 with the goal of stabilizing adolescents experiencing a mental health crisis and helping return safely to their families. Children in crisis and their families typically must now wait in the emergency department until a bed is available at one of the other adolescent psychiatric treatment facilities in North Carolina, the closest of which is 70 miles away. That wait can take from two to five days. And even once space is available, distance can strain the hope of an effective treatment plan, which almost always involves therapy for the entire family, rather than just medication, Fleishman said. The center will feature psychotherapy staff, psychiatrists and social workers.

M.B. Kahn Construction Co., the firm overseeing the project, has collaborated with Cape Fear Valley Health to ensure the state-of-the-art center will include important features in comfort, security and care.

“We can get a lot done here,” Fleishman said. “One of the biggest indicators of success is family therapy, and we’ll have space for that here.”

Bigger added, “Everybody will work together to address the needs of the teen. But the teen will be part of the team as well.”

Jadapalle’s passion for child psychiatry began when she worked in a center that treated epilepsy.

“I saw how much a sick child affected a family and an entire community,” she said. “If you can get a child stabilized, they can grow up to be productive adults.”

Fleishman said Jadapalle is perfectly suited for her role at the center.

“She doesn’t stop,” he said. “She has a passion for psychiatry and for children. She puts the quality of care above everything else.”

“That’s because I have a mentor like him,” Jadapalle said.


The Dorothea Dix Care Unit for Adolescents at Cape Fear Valley is made possible in part through Dorothea Dix Hospital Property Funds. Those funds were made possible by the 2015 sale of the Dorothea Dix campus near downtown Raleigh, which was formerly home to the state’s largest mental hospital. Terms of the sale specified that proceeds be used for mental health treatment programs throughout the state.

By all accounts, that likely would have pleased Dorothea Dix. Born in 1802, Dix was called to action by the appalling conditions she witnessed while teaching Sunday school in a Massachusetts women’s prison. She went on to become a leading national and international figure in the movement to help those with mental illnesses and was a staunch believer in compassionate care. In 1979, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.