Gov. Corzine said yesterday that the former head of the troubled Ancora Psychiatric Hospital would not be allowed to lead a unit that investigates assaults in New Jersey's mental institutions.
He said the appointment of LaTanya Wood-El to lead the Patient Safety Compliance Unit was misguided, "given the circumstances we saw at Ancora."
"That person will not be filling that job," the governor said.
Wood-El was removed from her job at the Winslow hospital in December after a string of incidents including two high-profile escapes and several patient suicides and assaults. Two patients were killed by fellow patients.
Wood-El was reassigned to the Department of Human Services' Office of Hospital Management. On Aug. 1, she was tasked with replacing the retiring head of the Patient Safety Compliance Unit, which collects statistics and investigates assaults in all state mental institutions.
Although the appointment was meant to be temporary, Corzine and top lawmakers reacted sharply.
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D., Essex), who chairs the Human Services Committee, called the appointment ludicrous.
Yesterday, she predicted legislative-mandated changes in state psychiatric care, and said she would support a bill to take mental institutions away from Human Services and place them under the Department of Health and Senior Services.
"Somebody is definitely not connecting the dots at the Department of Human Services," she said. "If we're going to have the continuation of poor management decisions, we're going to have to use what power we have."
Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) also predicted change on the horizon, with the governor taking action. Corzine has visited Ancora three times since last year.
"You can't reform this industry on legislative action alone," Greenwald said. "We need intervention from the governor, and I think we're headed in that direction."
Earlier this week, Human Services defended Wood-El's appointment, with Assistant Commissioner Kevin Martone saying she had the necessary experience.
After Corzine's statements yesterday, Human Services "decided, as planned, to discontinue [Wood-El's] temporary assignment," according to a statement.
Instead, Greg Roberts, the acting Ancora chief executive officer, will take over the patient safety unit until the position can be filled permanently, Human Services said.