Posted with permission from Local

The Christie administration has dealt a massive shake-up to the state's four public psychiatric hospitals, by replacing nearly every board member who served as a check on management and awarding a $740,500 contract to a consultant to evaluate each facility. 

With less than a week left of his term, Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday announced an entirely new slate of appointees to serve on the Board of Trustees for three of the four facilities: Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Parsippany, Ann Klein Forensic Center in Ewing and Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Many of the appointees are Christie's outgoing cabinet members and close advisers.

The administration signed a $740,500 contract on Dec. 22 with New Solutions, Inc., a health consulting firm in New Brunswick, to perform "an assessment of operational, administrative, building, plant, resources, clinical and patient care issues," according to documents and state officials. A report is due March 1. 

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The study comes after months of complaints from board members, hospital employees and mental health advocates about the lack of safety inside Greystone, the state's largest hospital. They said patients and employees are at risk because of a lack of security and a shortage of psychiatrists. Hospital administrators have denied allegations that patients are unsafe and claim they are making progress backfilling positions.

"It has become apparent that the current administration/management is failing the patients and staff, requiring the Board, all unpaid volunteers, to raise these issues," according to a Dec. 4 letter from Greystone Board Chairman Eric Marcy to Elizabeth Connolly, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, which until recently oversaw the hospitals.

"The staff have also confirmed that they are unable to control the units and that some units are "run" by patients. Most significant is the concern that the most severely compromised patients, the developmentally disabled and geriatric patients are victimized and the staff cannot protect them," according to Marcy's letter.

Marcy said he was unaware of the consultant's contract and the ouster of the board members until he was contacted by NJ Advance Media Wednesday night.

"There has been a dangerous disregard for the safety of the patients and staff at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital," Marcy said. "It comes as no surprise that the bureaucracy would seek to replace every member of the current board. I encourage the staff and family members to continue making public the conditions and problems that exist at Greystone in the hope that there will be positive change."

"I am proud of the 14 years I served on the Board and very proud of the current Board Members spoke truth to power," Marcy added.

Greystone's board now consists of Morris County Sheriff James Gannon of Boynton; Michele Brown of Mendham, one of Christie's most trusted advisers; Peter Simon of Jersey City, chief of staff to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Wayne Hasenbalg of Randolph, president  & CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority; Morris Township Mayor Bruce Sisler; Louis A. Modugno, a partner at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter; and Jim DiGiulio of Chatham, Christie's chief counsel.

Marcy said hiring a consultant to perform an assessment of all four hospitals in two months is "a joke. This will be superficial and a whitewash."

The consultant must review "accountable patient care; the adequacy and appropriateness of hospital organizational structure; physical plant issues; employee recruitment, retention and training; workplace safety; governance; delivery of patient care and treatment; and discharge practices and planning," according to the state's request for bidders. 

Robert Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association for Essex and Morris Counties, who has backed the former board's calls for improvements at Greystone, said the review is welcome if it is handled properly.

"First and foremost they should focus on the safety and dignity of the patients and staff. The best way to do this is to engage the patients and their families, as well as the professional staff," Davison said. "The patients and their families don't need another document that covers the State's rear-end, they need real improvements."

The state's four psychiatric hospitals housed 1,507 patients in November, according to the state Health Department website.

Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find Politics on Facebook.