Community worries about future of Gracewood

News 12 @ 6 o'clock/ Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gracewood sign
Gracewood, a local hospital for the mentally disabled, is set to close for good. (January 17, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Folks who depend on a specialty hospital for their family and friends, are scared time is running out.

Last year Gracewood Hospital announced they would be closing their doors, and the date seemed pretty set in stone, but things have changed.

Cynthia Westberry's son is her whole world. Joe is thirty-one-years-old and is mentally handicapped. "It's hard to take care of him, he's nonverbal, and if he wants something and I can't understand him right, he'll try to pull me to it, but if I can't get it right he gets frustrated and he'll hit at things and throw things," she said.

Caring for Joe is a full time job, so Cynthia depends on mental health facilities such as Gracewood and the Berry Center to help care for her son. "It's hard enough to find a job that will let me work 9:00 until 2:00 because that's when he's in day care, I would never find a job if I had him all of the time," Cynthia said.

It's been about a year since Georgia Health officials announced Gracewood would close its doors in 2015, but as that deadline approaches, that hard deadline is now more flexible. And Cynthia worries what will happen to her son. "If something happened to me, I'm forty-nine if something ever were to happen to me I don't know where he would go," she said.

Gracewood now says the hospital will stay open until all patients have a suitable community home. But they aren't saying when that will be complete. Cynthia says, that won't work for people with needs as serious as Joe's. Just the other day, her son jumped the fence in her yard and ran all the way to a busy street up the road. She worries something like that might happen again if she were to place him in a community home.

Cynthia hopes more attention to these issues will keep places like Gracewood open. Mental health has never really been a priority in Augusta for some reason, I guess cause they don't have a voice," she said.

For now, Gracewood remains open, and Cynthia hopes for Joe, it stays that way.

The hospital says, they are going to stay open until everyone has a community home. But some folks told News 12, a lot of patients need the intensive care Gracewood provides and they're concerned they can't get it anywhere else.

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