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For immediate release:
September 5, 2008

For information, call:
Ellen Lovejoy

TRENTON – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division has sent notification that it will begin conducting an inquiry into conditions at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Commissioner Jennifer Velez announced today.
 
 
“We have been informed that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division intends to examine patient safety and treatment quality at Ancora,” Velez said. “We share DOJ’s interest in ensuring that patients’ rights are protected and respected, and we consider these issues to be of utmost importance.”

DOJ has statutory authority to examine conditions in a variety of public and private facilities. DHS expects the assessment to begin imminently.

With about 652 patients, Ancora is the state’s largest inpatient psychiatric hospital. The hospital plays a vital role within the state’s mental health services continuum by providing care to people who have the most serious and complex psychiatric disorders.    

More than 2,100 patients are treated at Ancora last year.

In May, Commissioner Velez issued an administrative order requiring essential system wide improvements and continuous, rigorous reviews of Ancora operations.

DOJ indicated in its notification letter that it “has not reached any conclusions about the subject matter,” and that it believes DHS wants to operate Ancora in accordance with federal law. The agency indicated that, after it concludes its inquiry, it can close the investigation or make recommendations for improvements.

 “We expect that this process with DOJ will ultimately yield positive outcomes for patients and their families,” said Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Mental Health Services, Kevin Martone, noting that operational advances have reduced patient population, increased security and increased active treatment time, staff training and emphasis on wellness and recovery. “Staff is demonstrating a strong commitment to the progress already under way.”

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