Possible privatization of psych ward in Camden triggers worries

Mental health advocates in New Jersey are worried about the possible privatization of the Camden County Health Service Center’s psychiatric ward. The center was sold to Ocean Healthcare for more than $37 million in May, but county officials had planned to lease back the psych ward.There is disagreement about the future of the ward, with a county spokesman saying the original plan will proceed.

But Mary Lynne Reynolds of the Mental Health Association in Southwestern New Jersey said she believes Ocean Healthcare intends to take over the ward. She said she’s worried the company will reject the uninsured patients in the roughly 150-bed ward.

“This is really a very serious problem. Currently, we have shortages. We have people who are waiting in our crisis screening centers to be placed in involuntary beds and that’s with the 150 beds we currently have at the county hospital,” she said. “Once we lose those beds, it’s unknown what’s going to happen.”

According to Reynolds, the contract included a clause that allowed the hospital to change the plan.Dan Keashen, a spokesman for Camden County Spokesman, said the agreement hasn’t changed and the county will continue to operate the psych ward.

“The terms of the sale, if you reference back to May when the sale was consecrated, was a $37.1 million purchase of the entire complex with a lease-back option for the county to operate the behavioral health side of the facility,” said Keashen.

The center’s psych ward serves Camden County and several other South Jersey counties, said Phil Lubitz of NAMI New Jersey. He also believes the ward will be privatized and he’s worried about the possible consequences of losing those beds.

“Even with the best planning, there is a resulting increase in homelessness and also people with mental illness being diverted into our criminal justice system,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services declined comment.

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