Velez made public a U.S. Department of Justice letter of findings that identifies serious problems at the hospital and notes the improvements that are currently underway at Ancora. The letter cites deficiencies in two primary areas – services to patients in integrated settings and patient safety issues.
“Some of the findings are indeed startling and disturbing to all of us who are dedicated to the care and treatment of some of the most challenging mental health issues society faces. Ancora has been ailing for a long time but it is on the mend,” Commissioner Velez said.
“For months before the investigation and for months since the review, we have been implementing a series of structural, programmatic, safety, training and treatment reforms”, said Velez “In less than a year we have changed the leadership at Ancora, reduced the census dramatically, and increased community placement through more timely discharges.”
Following a series of incidents at Ancora, Commissioner Velez initiated a series of reforms in Spring 2008:
- December 2007: Reassignment of CEO and oversight duties temporarily assigned to Gregory Roberts, Director Office of State Hospital Management and previous CEO at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and the former Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital
- May 2008: Commissioner Velez issued an Administrative Order to restructure Ancora Psychiatric Hospital’s administration and redirect staff development and patient treatment approaches toward a more therapeutic, recovery-oriented system.
- October 2008: Allan Boyer took over as the new CEO of Ancora
- November 2008: An on-site, self-help center is opened at Ancora to help with patient recovery, preparation for discharge and independent living
- January 2009: US Department of Justice visited Ancora
- July 2009: The state settled the Olmstead lawsuit with Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) and expanded community housing opportunities for patients with mental illness
The settlement in July is central to Ancora’s continued progress. It ended a long-standing lawsuit filed by DRNJ to facilitate the discharge of patients who have been deemed ready to leave the hospital but remained because of a lack of community housing options. In its letter, the DOJ emphasized the hospital’s need to improve its discharge processes. The settlement agreement with DRNJ specifically addresses that issue, detailing a five-year plan to achieve timely patient discharge opportunities.
“One of the major problems at Ancora has been overcrowding,” Kevin Martone, DHS Deputy Commissioner said. “We have dramatically reduced the number of patients at Ancora from 780 patients two years ago to the current census of 560. A reduced census is instrumental in allowing leadership at Ancora to implement other needed reforms.”
Progress reports documenting the change underway at Ancora have been posted on the DHS website regularly since December 2008. Many of the improvements discussed in the recent third progress report have been made since the DOJ visited. Progress noted in the 6-month report includes:
- a 5-percent census reduction
- a 15% reduction in admissions
- reduced lengths of stays
- reduced number of units
- reduced number of walkaways (0)
- implementation of acute-and extended-tracks of care
- opening of an on-grounds self-help center
- workforce development and leadership development initiatives
Many of the improvements listed in the progress report – a new nursing model, new restraint training for staff, more effective discharges, and expanded programming for patients – continue to be implemented since the DOJ’s visit to the Winslow Township hospital in January.
“Even with these improvements, the hospital clearly needs to make more progress, as noted in DOJ’s report,” Ancora CEO Allan Boyer said.
“We welcome DOJ’s input and share the goal of protecting patients’ civil rights. ” Boyer added. “We will continue to cooperate with the DOJ in responding to concerns raised in during their investigation. DOJ has conducted numerous investigations across the country, and we will review its recommendations with our reforms underway.” “We expect that this process with DOJ will yield positive outcomes for patients and their families,” said Jon Poag, Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Mental Health Services. “We’ve been open with patients, families, staff and the community about what needs to be accomplished at Ancora. Staff is demonstrating a strong commitment to the progress already underway.”
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