Lawsuit alleges assaults, overcrowding, understaffing, cover-ups at Greystone

Greystone State Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: State of NJ
Greystone State Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: State of NJ
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By Marion Filler

Against a background of horrific allegations from staff and patients at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, the state Office of the Public Defender has filed suit against the Murphy Administration.

The suit specifically names Gov. Phil Murphy, Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, past and present Greystone officials, and senior members of the Chris Christie administration.

Also included are Hospital CEO Tomika Carter, Chief of Medicine Harlan Mellk M.D., and Medical Director Evaristo Akerele M.D.

The 60-page suit, filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 17, 2018, alleges that abuse and negligence have been covered up by officials at the hospital, which straddles the Morris Plains/ Parsippany border; and that government agencies have failed to oversee and correct problems that include widespread assaults.

It is brought on behalf of patients “who have been, are presently, or will be hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital whose constitutional and statutory rights continue to be violated on a daily basis.”

MorristownGreen.com has reached out to the Governor’s office and the state Department of Health for their response. We will update this story with their comments when we receive them.

SECOND TIME FOR GREYSTONE

This is the second time legal advocates have sued to change dangerous conditions at Greystone.

The first case resulted in a 1977 settlement that installed a court-appointed monitoring panel until 2009. After four decades, a new Greystone hospital opened at a cost of $200 million, ready to start afresh.

That panel strongly recommended an independent group should continue oversight, but Superior Court Judge Theodore Bozonelis declined to mandate such an arrangement.

Despite updated facilities, it only took 10 years for conditions to deteriorate to what they are today. According to the lawsuit, here is what life at Greystone is like:

It’s overcrowded once again. Because funding was cut to other institutions by the Christie administration, they were forced to close and sent their patients to Greystone.

In 2014, patients arrived from the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa, and were joined by others from the Woodbridge Developmental Center.

According to the suit, “Greystone, a psychiatric hospital, is neither designed nor intended to accommodate individuals with developmental disabilities. Likewise, many staff members, who were solely trained to care for developmentally disabled patients, were transferred to Greystone and were ill-equipped to provide psychiatric care.”

At the same time, the suit contends, mismanagement caused the number of experienced staff–including psychiatrists, nurses, and mental health workers–to plummet. Although the hospital was designed to utilize at least 29 staff psychiatrists to treat a maximum of 510 patients, according to the lawsuit, there are now only six full-time psychiatrists to treat 411 patients.

“More will leave by the end of the year,” the lawsuit said.

On top of overall neglect, patients and doctors are being assaulted at an alarming rate by patients who apparently are out of control – contributing to the declining staff.

As of August 2017, some 908 assaults were reported; 322 involved injuries. Concussions and severe blows to staff, as well as sexual assaults of patients, are cited. There are acknowledged instances of drug dealing among patients that remain unchecked.

The number of incidents in 2017 was on track to surpass the highest number of reported assaults and injuries since the opening of the “new” Greystone.

The suit further alleges that the hospital officials named in the suit intentionally kept multiple sets of books regarding the rate of assaults: One set for the public, one set for regulatory agencies, and one set for internal use only.

When Teresa A. McQuaide, the former interim CEO at Greystone, was asked how she defined “assault,” the answer was “broken bones.” Evidently muggings did not qualify.

Testimony from multiple whistleblowers attests to threats when they tried to disclose, or refused to manipulate, this information against the direct orders of officials.

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1 COMMENT

  1. All the state has to do is hire more qualified people for the hospital. Also it has to be recognized that releasing patients to community care does not work. Keeping patients drugged & in tv rooms also does not work. Give them something constructive to do beside sitting one on top of another in a cramped room. Give the patients options like going out into the field and planting like they did at Greystone before the community ideal came along.

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