Problems with integrated security system blamed for delays at N.J. psychiatric hospital

The state has delayed opening the new Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital for six months as it works out the kinks of a sophisticated communications and security system for the $170 million facility.

Officials of the state Economic Development Authority and Department of Human Services said work crews are making progress on fine tuning a "very complex system . . . that is unique to Greystone" and essential to the safe operation of the 450,000 square-foot hospital in Parsippany.

But they declined yesterday to offer a new opening date for the facility, which had a ribbon-cutting and opening ceremony on Nov. 1.

Nicole Royal, the agency's public affairs director, said outstanding issues holding up the move of patients into the 450-bed hospital are related to a "programmable logic controller," or computerized system for a host of hospital functions, including security, alarms, telephones, intercoms and cameras.

Project manager Thomas Catapano said exhaustive tests of these integrated systems are being done to ensure they operate perfectly before patients move in.

He said installation and programming of the hospital's customized, 1,080 telephone system will be completed this week. Also, a code-blue, code-gray security system, allowing instant touch-screen emergency alarms for patients who are ill or violent also has recently been added, he said.

"The testing has to be complete. We have to have a comfort level with the system," said Royal, who decried use of the term "delays" regarding the postponed opening. "At the time of the ribbon cutting, we knew there were still some construction issues to address. We knew it would take some time," she said.

But state officials, following the Nov. 1 ceremony attended by Gov. Jon Corzine and state Senate President Richard Codey, said they expected a December move into the building. EDA officials subsequently said a Jan. 1 move was likely. The hospital later geared up for an April 7-9 move but that also was postponed.

Frustrated members of the Greystone Board of Trustees recently suggested taking public steps to "dramatize the situation." EDA and Human Services officials subsequently briefed the board on the situation. But trustee John Lydon was less than satisfied.

"Holding the grand opening and then not opening the hospital was like launching a ship with a bottle of champagne and then bringing the ship back into dry-dock," Lydon said yesterday.

Some contractors working on the project sympathized with Lydon's sentiments, saying the grand opening should have been delayed. But they defended the pace of their work.

"There are a lot of electronic systems that communicate with each other. This is not just some plug-in-and-play system," said Matt Martz, an electrical sub-foreman on the project. "You can't be rushed with this stuff. You have to do it in an orderly fashion.

"Could you imagine what would happen if the system did not work and patients escaped or got locked inside the building?"

The new Greystone is a 450-bed hospital, which, along with 60 beds in existing cottages, will serve a maximum of 510 patients, mostly from Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties. It would replace a dilapidated, out-of-date Greystone that will be shut as soon as the new hospital opens.