N.J. advocates concerned about safety in state’s psychiatric hospitals

     Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (Image vie NJ.com)

    Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (Image vie NJ.com)

    Mental health advocates in New Jersey say they are getting more calls from concerned family members about assaults in state psychiatric hospitals.

    A patient at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital lost her eyesight as a result of an attack by a fellow patient in September. Another assault by a patient there in October left a staff member with a broken hand.

    Recent closings of several psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey could mean deteriorating conditions in the remaining hospitals, says Phil Lubitz, who heads the advocacy group NAMI New Jersey.

    “It has put a lot of pressure on existing beds,” he said, “and if we have learned anything, we know when there is crowding in hospitals, incidents tend to increase.”

    Lubitz says when more beds were available, it was easier to keep aggressive patients away from the rest of the hospital population.

    Now, he said, “Many people just end up where there happens to be a vacant bed, not the most appropriate bed for them.”

    Gloria Gervase, the woman who was attacked while receiving treatment at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital has not regained vision in her remaining eye. One eye had to be removed following the attack.

    New York psychologist Seth Farber has known Gervase for several years, and says she was in a very desperate state of mind during his most recent visit. “She’s lost her will to live,” he said.  State officials say an employee who failed to conduct a routine check on all patients on the night Gervase was attacked remains suspended without pay as an investigation is conducted.

    Advocacy organizations are working with state officials to increase supervision at state hospitals. For example, a new program allows family members to visit unannounced and inspect hospital units, and then report what they find to hospital leadership.

    State data show close to 5,000 assaults occurred in the state’s four psychiatric hospitals in 2013.

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