State Sen. Clayton Hee’s inquiry into conditions at the Hawaii State Hospital took him to Kaneohe on Wednesday where he toured the mental health facility with top administrators, including Department of Health Director Linda Rosen.
Hee scheduled his visit as part of an ongoing Senate investigation into the high rate of patient assaults on staff and allegations of mismanagement, overtime abuse and nepotism.
Media were not allowed on hospital grounds Wednesday, but Hee addressed members of the press after his visit, reiterating many of the same concerns he’s had since launching his investigation in November.
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“Clearly from a number of perspectives this facility is not properly built to house the number of patients who are here,” Hee said.
“The facility is way too small, and that’s only from a physical point of view. This facility is also not equipped to deal with psychotic drug-induced individuals.”
Hee said there were 202 patients at the hospital, which is only designed to hold about 170. An additional 40 patients are at Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health in Ewa Beach.
The State Hospital, built in the 1930s, long served traditional mental health patients, but it has received a growing number of people committed through the criminal justice system.
The senator said it’s time for the state to build a forensic hospital to house this newer demographic of patients, some of whom can be extremely dangerous.
Hee even brought up the case of David True Seal, who had been committed to the hospital after being acquitted of sexual assault and kidnapping by reason of insanity. True Seal escaped from the hospital in 2009 and was arrested on the Big Island in 2013 for allegedly stabbing his friend to death.
On his tour, the senator learned how True Seal escaped from the facility.
“He used popsicle sticks,” Hee said. “He climbed up (the fence) with popsicle sticks.”
The escape highlighted inadequacies in security and monitoring.
Private security guards at the hospital are limited in what they can do to control patients, even those who are trying to escape. For one, they are permitted to have only the most minimal physical contact with patients, meaning they can’t wrestle them to the ground.
But it’s still unclear how much Hee can do to help with building a new mental health facility with higher security. Lawmakers have been apprehensive about approving new funding for construction, and now that Hee is running for lieutenant governor it will be incumbent upon others to take charge.
“My contributions will hopefully lead to good policy by legislators that will follow,” Hee said. “A lot of leadership comes from the executive office. There’s no reason the governor could not put a package together. This is not hard stuff.”
Hee noted that the hospital has made some progress when it comes to updating various policies that could protect workers. And he pointed out an upcoming change in leadership at the hospital that could play a role in its future operations.
Hawaii State Hospital Acting Administrator Bill Elliott, who was on the tour with Hee, is retiring on Aug. 1. The state also hired a new chief for the hospital, William May, who is scheduled to begin in July. He is currently the superintendent of the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, Colorado.
The Senate investigative panel will continue its work over the next several months. Hee said he still wants to get a better handle on overtime costs and complaints of nepotism, which are being investigated by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
“This problem should have been addressed yesterday,” Hee said. “Some in government would say it’s an ongoing process, but there’s a lot of improvement that I believe can be done.”
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