By Brenda Flanagan
The stories leaking out of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital from both patients’ families and staff, describe overcrowded conditions where violent patients terrify people inside the state-run psychiatric facility, according to Carl Herman, director of the Division of Mental Health Advocacy in New Jersey’s Office of the Public Defender.
“We’ve heard about doctors being assaulted by patients, we’ve heard about doctors being essentially robbed,” he said. “There’s reason to believe that in many instances, some of the units are being run by some of the most dangerous psychiatric patients, and that’s certainly a cause of concern for our agency.”
Enough concern, that the Office of the Public Defender is now launching its own investigation into what’s going on at Greystone. Other mental health advocates have also received alarming phone calls from people with family at the facility.
“They’re telling me that their loved ones are being assaulted by other patients. The staff is very reluctant to get involved. They also tell me that the staff that is there is caring, and work hard, but they just feel there’s not enough of them, and that the situation is out of control,” said the Executive Director of Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties, Bob Davison. “They’re afraid, they feel out of control. They feel their loved ones are at risk, and that they can’t do anything about it.”
Hard numbers appear to support their concerns, as NJ Advance Media recently reported, and NJTV News confirmed, patients at Greystone assaulted and injured 25 people, 12 staffers and 13 fellow patients in just the first three months of 2017. Compare that to 66 assaults reported for all of 2016, and 39 in 2015. Greystone’s also hopelessly overcrowded, with only half its required staff of 30 psychiatrists.
“You don’t have enough staff to care for them. It wasn’t built for 560. It was built for a maximum of 450. So when that happens, you have overcrowding, tensions, it’s a recipe for disaster and the disaster has happened,” said state senator and former Democratic governor, Richard Codey.
These issues aren’t being addressed by leadership at Greystone, because currently, there isn’t any. The CEO is on medical leave. There’s no medical director, no director of psychiatry and no director of nursing. Acting directors are filling in while the state interviews replacements.
Mental health advocates believe this crisis stems from Gov. Chris Christie’s decision in 2012 to close the former Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital, which housed a primarily geriatric population. Codey had advised against closing Hagedorn.
“It lays on his table without question. And what he should do now is admit he made a mistake, set in motion the opening of Hagedorn, so the new governor, when he or she starts, can proceed with taking patients from Greystone into Hagedorn, that should be at Hagedorn,” said Codey.
The state’s response? Greystone’s staff is now receiving enhanced violence prevention training to help them de-escalate patient confrontations. On Aug. 3, New Jersey’s Acting Human Services Commissioner, Elizabeth Connolly, wrote to Greystone’s Board of Trustees, noting, “There are multiple initiatives underway to recruit physicians and psychiatrists, to support patient and staff safety and to continue the successful placement of patients preparing for discharge.”
About 100 patients await discharge but may not have suitable community placements available, even though a judge has ruled they’re eligible.
“I would say, stop! In the name of love — love of those patients. That’s a mistake. Why? Because there is this amount of people that can’t go in the community and function at a high level,” Codey said.
“If a judge has made a ruling, they can be discharged to the community and if they’re not being discharged then those clients’ rights are being violated and they’re being held involuntarily in locked psychiatric wards,” said Herman.
NJTV News talked to one parent who reported his daughter’s being treated well at Greystone. And, Sen. Codey agrees, it’s a good facility — just one with too many patients, and not enough staff.