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 approved by the Senate today by a vote of 38-0.
“The original Greystone Psychiatric Hospital is a facility steeped in history, and we owe it to the public to preserve that history for future generations,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “The main building at Greystone was built during the infancy of mental health treatment in this country, and has seen both the highs and lows of mental health care throughout its more than 130 years of history. We need to explore ways to preserve this monument to mental health care, to ensure that we take to heart the lessons learned over the course of its existence.”
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.
“I first came to Greystone during my time working with my family’s funeral home, and it made quite an impression,” said Senator Codey. “The massive Kirkbride building seemed to impose an air of dignity and respect that so many of the building’s inhabitants were denied due to their mental illness. After those initial visits, I knew that we had to do a better job in how we treated people living with mental illness, and as a result, I’ve been promoting mental health care reform ever since.”
The Kirkbride building at the original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital began construction in 1871, and began admitting patients in 1876, after officially being christened by United States President Ulysses S. Grant. 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.
“The original Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital holds a special place not only in New Jersey’s own history of treatment for the mentally ill, but also for the larger national history of mental health care,” said Senator Codey. “This facility reflects the changing attitudes and sentiments regarding people with mental illness, and as such, would be the perfect site for a mental health museum or some other monument dedicated to the evolution of treatment and public perception of mental illness. If we’re ever going to leave behind the dark days when mental illness was a source of shame and scorn for families, we need to remember where we’ve come from, and in New Jersey, Greystone is a big part of that history.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.