Bill Would Create Task Force to Develop a Plan to Preserve Hospital’s Main Building
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey which would establish a task force to develop a preservation plan for the main building at the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County was unanimously approved by the Senate State Government Committee today.
“Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital should be allowed to stand as a monument to New Jersey’s mental health history,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “In its more than 130 years of history, the original Greystone Park represented both the best and the worst of mental health treatment. Rather than sell off this property to make a quick buck, we should restore and preserve the main building for its historic value not only to the State, but to the larger practice of mental health care in this country.”
The bill, S-823, would establish an 11-member task force in the Department of Human Services charged with the responsibility of developing a plan to ensure preservation of the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital main building, or Kirkbride building, in the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills. The task force would include the Commissioners of Human Services and Environmental Protection, the State Treasurer, the Mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills, the Director of the Morris County Freeholder Board and the CEO of the new Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital as ex-officio members. The task force would also include five public members, appointed by the Governor, including a member of the Morris County Historical Society, a professional architect who has demonstrated familiarity with the architectural features at Greystone, a person recommended by the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, a person who is a former patient or family member of a former patient at the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, and a resident of Morris County who is engaged in preservation efforts at Greystone.
The task force would be required to report its preservation plan for Greystone Park to the Governor and the Legislature no later than six months after the group’s initial meeting.
Senator Codey noted that he first visited Greystone Park as a young man working for his father’s funeral home. He attributed these visits to his commitment later in life to improve New Jersey’s mental health system as both a State lawmaker and Governor.
“When I first came to Greystone, I was responsible for transporting the bodies of deceased patients to my dad’s funeral home in Orange, and the image of the Kirkbride building stuck with me,” said Senator Codey. “I treated the work as serious and somber, because I believed that the patients deserved a small measure of dignity and respect in death that they were denied in life due to their mental illness. Unfortunately, while we’ve come a long way, many of the public misconceptions regarding mental illness still exist today, and the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital should serve as a symbol dedicated to the struggles of the mentally ill and their families seeking respect and compassion from society.”
The main building, or Kirkbride building at the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital began construction in 1871, and officially began admitting patients in 1876. The building was constructed in a design championed by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride, a reformer who sought to create a system in which patients with mental illness were treated with dignity and respect, as opposed to being stowed away in basements and county jails. With the advocacy of mental health activist Dorothea Dix, Greystone Park was built in northern New Jersey to alleviate overcrowding at the New Jersey State Hospital in Trenton New Jersey, the first facility in the nation built under the Kirkbride Plan in 1847.
“Greystone Park has an incredible history, and would make an excellent museum on the evolution of mental health treatment and public sentiment regarding mental illness,” said Senator Codey. “Additionally, the cost to tear down this building, which is the second largest building in the entire nation, after the Pentagon, to be built with a continuous cement foundation, would be enormous. It would make fiscal sense to preserve this building, and it would ensure that we never forget where we’ve come from in terms of treatment for the mentally ill.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.