TRENTON – Senator Richard J. Codey and Senator Joseph F. Vitale this week introduced a Senate Concurrent Resolution that urges the governor to reopen Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital so that the state can provide appropriate treatment and support to its older residents with mental illness who require hospitalization, and in the process, potentially help to relieve the dangerous overcrowding of some of the state’s other psychiatric hospitals.
Senator Codey has been a life-long advocate for individuals with mental illness. In August, he called on Governor Christie to start the process of reopening Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital to alleviate the overcrowding at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. His call followed a published report on NJ.com describing overcrowded and unsafe conditions at the Greystone facility. Senator Codey vowed to continue the effort under the Murphy Administration.
“The closure of Hagedorn came after Governor Christie put together a panel of bipartisan legislators, a cabinet member, and the public, the majority of which he selected, that urged him strongly not to close it. He went against the advice of his own commission and shuttered the facility. As a result, many of the geriatric patients were transferred to Greystone, to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions, where residents have suffered violence,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex/Morris). “Reopening Hagedorn is the right thing to do to address the crisis we now face.”
According to mental health advocates, Hagedorn was one of the most highly functioning and well-staffed hospitals in the state, and its smaller size and specialization in geriatric mental health filled a niche that other state psychiatric hospitals did not, the resolution (SCR96) states. Leading up to its closure, its 255 patients were moved into nursing homes, community placements or relocated to other state hospitals and advocates express concern that because of their advanced age or frailty, those former patients may not be able to advocate for themselves to change their situation if their new placements are not providing the necessary levels of care and support.
Located in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County, the Senator Garrett W. Hagedorn Gero-Psychiatric Hospital was closed in July 2012, and the reasons given for the closure of the hospital by former Governor Chris Christie included cost savings and an effort to provide treatment for individuals with mental illness in the least restrictive setting possible.
Populations of other state psychiatric hospitals have increased, in part, due to their absorption of some of the former Hagedorn patients, resulting in the untenable overcrowding and dangerous conditions at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital – which was built to house 450 people in the main building but which as of March 2017 housed 560 patients. The facility experienced a marked increase in patient-on-patient and patient-on-staff violence during 2017, one of the dangerous consequences of overcrowding and insufficient staffing, the resolution states.
“It is important that people living with mental illness are treated in the least restrictive setting possible, but we know there will always be individuals who require more supportive and specialized care. We must make sure we have the resources available for these residents, and unfortunately the closure of facilities in the state has led to systemic issues with regard to capacity that are putting the safety of patients at risk,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “We believe reopening Hagedorn is an appropriate way to provide treatment to our older patients, but also to address the overcrowding that has resulted in dangerous living conditions for residents who require care in a state facility and an unsafe working environment for staff.”