November 17, 2008
222 South Warren Street
Trenton, NJ 08625
Ancora Psychiatric Hospital opens on-site self-help center
Program among first of its kind in the country
WINSLOW TOWNSHIP – Ancora Psychiatric Hospital this week opened a self-help center that brings mental health consumers living in the community together with current patients to help them in their recovery, preparation for discharge, and independent living.
The program is the first of its kind in the state and one of only a few in the country. The pilot initiative will operate on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital to provide patients the tools and community links they need before they leave the hospital. About 30 similar self-help centers are in operation, but are provider-run and located throughout the state.
An estimated 100 patients and staff celebrated with applause and shouted words of praise Thursday as hospital officials cut the ribbon of the new center and listened to the personal reflections of hope and recovery shared by former patients and other consumers of mental health services.
“There is life after the hospital. I was able to meet people, make friendships and participate in mainstream society,” said Toni Muehter, a woman who spent five years as an Ancora patient, and now - after forming connections with community support groups and pursuing her education – manages the Stratford Self-Help Center. “If I can overcome the numerous obstacles of my mental illness, so can you. If we stay motivated and on track with our recovery, we can make it in the community.”
The self-help center is part of a treatment mall required in an administrative order issued in May by Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez. The directive is in keeping with the Division of Mental Health Service’s transformation of the statewide mental health system into one that recommends active treatment and is geared toward wellness and recovery.
The Ancora center, filled with tables, couches and computers, is a pilot program that will be replicated in the state’s four other psychiatric hospitals, said Assistant Commissioner Kevin Martone, who stressed the importance of peer support.
“This is an historic day for us in New Jersey. The self-help movement here is one of the strongest in the nation,” Martone said, adding that he gets inquiries about New Jersey’s programs every time he speaks with his counterparts from other states. “We are setting new standards not only in New Jersey but across the country.”
“Please use this important resource,” Martone told the patients. “They’ve been through this themselves,” he said, referring to the people from community self-help centers who will be staffing the Ancora center. “You can get out of this hospital. You can build bridges into the community and live the productive lives you want to live.
“Thank you!” one patient shouted. “I want to get out and I want to recover.”
Ancora CEO Allan Boyer noted that it was a collaboration of government, community, consumers and stakeholders that made this center possible.
“This center helps the patients prepare for community living and obtain appropriate support services,” Boyer said.
“I’m proud Ancora is the first,” said Greg Roberts, Director of the Office of State Hospital Management in DMHS, who served as acting CEO until Boyer’s appointment last month. Roberts and Martone also praised Margaret Molnar, Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs at the Division of Mental Health Services and Karen Burke, Regional Coordinator of Collaborative Support Program for South Jersey. “Seeing the success of former consumers helps alleviate a lot of the fears current patients have about being discharged.”
“I’ve been through it. You don’t recover alone,” Burke told the patients. “In one of the moments of muck and mire, we may think we’re alone, but we are not alone”, Burke added. “This is an evidence-based program that stresses the application of empowerment tools, access to peer support and all the advances that can help us achieve a richer, more meaningful life.”
After the ribbon-cutting, more than 150 patients spent much of the afternoon in the hospital gymnasium, listening to consumers from self-help centers throughout the state give an orientation about their programs, services and activities offered and then met with representatives from the centers near where the patients expect to be discharged.