N.J. boarding home housing people with mental illness comes under scrutiny

A New Jersey boarding home that mostly houses people with mental illnesses is coming under renewed scrutiny. Police report an increase in disturbances, and a former employee says the Toms River facility should be closed.

Dover Woods is called a residential health care facility, but it looks more like a very shabby two-story office building. The facility is licensed to house 251 residents who pay their rent with Social Security checks or through Medicaid. Many residents have severe mental illnesses.

Neil Nunez, who worked at Dover Woods as kitchen manager from November until June, said  he was quickly appalled by the conditions — starting in the kitchen.

“Why are we feeding feeding these people this stuff?” he wondered. “It was just bottom-dwelling food, the lowest quality available. The meat is like paste, they receive sour milk.”

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Nunez says cooking equipment was broken, the oven frequently caught on fire, and mice ran all over the kitchen — and the rest of the facility.

“You find dead ones out in the dining room while they are eating, there are spiders that are biting the residents, and sending them to the hospital,” he said.

He said he saw residents who were constantly covered in urine, people experiencing psychotic episodes and almost no supervision from staff.

“Mixing everybody up in that state is really no good for anybody. They call it assisted living, but where is the assist? I don’t see anybody helping anybody, they are just thrown in there and left to rot.”

Nunez said during the time of his employment, several residents died, and an employee was assaulted.

Police and New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs confirmed three recent deaths at the facility and an assault on an employee in November that is still under investigation. The resident who allegedly assaulted the employee was hospitalized and did not return to Dover Woods.

Department of Community Affairs officials say the facility was inspected in November and was ordered to create a cleaning plan, to free the space of noxious odors, and clear trash and debris. So far, a followup inspection has not taken place.

During a recent visit to Dover Woods, the day room smelled strongly of urine, several windows were boarded up, and trash was strewn about outdoor areas.

Ralph Stocco of the Toms River Police Department says officers have been dispatched to Dover Woods 11 times this year — a marked increase from last year. In addition, the said, the department has received 12 calls from nearby businesses about Dover Woods residents.

“They walk to the surrounding businesses, such as food stores, pharmacies and fast-food restaurants, and we have had a lot of calls for vagrancy and people begging and intoxicated parties at the surrounding businesses,” he said.

Dover Woods is located near the intersection of Routes 9 and 70, and Stocco said several residents have been struck by vehicles while crossing the road.

Management at Dover Woods did not respond to multiple calls for comment. Nunez has found a new job, and has filed complaints about Dover Woods with the local police and fire department.

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