The spectacular break from confinement from the Hawaii State Hospital was like a made-for-TV movie.

Randall Saito’s quick capture in California is a relief, but we need to take steps right now to ensure such incidents never happen again.

State officials did the right thing in suspending without pay seven hospital employees tied to Saito’s actions. But there is so much more to be done.

Implementing greater short-term security, such as more fences and guards, could help stop dangerous patients like Saito from walking off the hospital grounds and hailing a taxi cab. Why this wasn’t already in place is baffling, as the overbooked mental hospital is located in a residential Kaneohe neighborhood and borders Windward Community College.

Fence runs along some of the Hawaii State Hospital's bordering area with the Windward Community College campus. The fence ended on the Kahaluu side along where the road met up with the road that runs thru Windward Community College.

Unsecured? A fence runs along some of the Hawaii State Hospital’s border with Windward Community College.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

While we recognize that federal mental health laws require the mentally ill be held in the least restrictive setting possible, Saito’s own admission that he faked mental illness to avoid criminal charges for the 1979 shooting and stabbing death of Sandra Yamashiro makes it obvious that something needs to change in the criminal justice system.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, whose district includes the hospital, said that the Legislature set aside $1.7 million for additional security just two years ago.

“Now is the time for some real action,” she said, noting that the added security was the result of the formation of widely publicized task force in response to reports of violence against hospital staff.

No Notice To Airlines

Saito’s apparent ease in charting a flight from Honolulu to Maui and then boarding a commercial flight to California is similarly astonishing and demands recourse.

State Rep. Matt LoPresti of Oahu, the vice chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, has been in touch with the Transportation Security Administration regarding the hospital incident. Had the state departments of health and public safety contacted airport authorities the moment Saito’s absence was discovered, an all-points bulletin might have been issued by TSA and airlines could have been on the lookout for Saito.

Instead, LoPresti says TSA told him that no notice was given until long after the fact. Even Saito said in a jailhouse interveiw that he expected to be apprehended several times while on his getaway.

Governor David Ige with left, Dr Virginia Pressler and right, AG Doug Chin at press conference on escapee Saito who was apprehended in California.

More please: Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler, Attorney General Doug Chin and Gov. David Ige must make sure recommendations stemming from the Randall Saito escape are implemented.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Saito’s escapade underscores the urgency to move on the planned $160.5 million expansion of the facility.  The master plan calls for more than doubling the capacity of a structure that was never intended for occupants like Saito.

DOH Communications Director Janice Okubo said the demolition of the hospital’s Goddard Building was completed in December. Since then, DOH has been working with the Department of Accounting and General Services to prepare a request for proposal for construction of a replacement building using the design-build methodology to expedite the process.

The new patient facility is currently in the procurement process, and it’s hoped that construction will begin in the summer of 2018 and the project will be finished in December 2020. 

The replacement facility will have a 144-bed patient capacity for new admissions, high-risk patients and those who are considered flight risks. Okubo said the building will have treatment, visitation and exercise areas “totally within the facility. It will be highly secure for patients, staff and visitors.”

That sounds promising, but given that 17 people have escaped from the hospital in the past eight years, DOH and DAGS — with the urging of Gov. David Ige and Legislature — should do what it can to speed the process further. If our leaders need any inspiration, they can consider what it would be like to see more news stories about sexually sadistic, necrophiliac serial-killer types running loose on Oahu.

Pre-Trial Felon

It seems that Saito, who is being held in Stockton, California, doesn’t want to be extradited to Honolulu. Too bad.

We expect that he will be expeditiously returned in handcuffs and chains to be arraigned in Honolulu. If that happens, Saito will be held as a pre-trial felon at the Oahu Community Correctional Center unless he posts the $500,000 bail or bond.

Escaped patient Randall Saito at his booking in California on Nov. 15.

San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office

And, if Saito does post bail, he will be sent back to the Hawaii State Hospital. Either way, he will not be released into the community, says Attorney General Doug Chin.

Once the investigation is completed, the public needs to be told as much as possible about what led to the embarrassing and potentially dangerous escape. Timely updates along the way are a must.

This bad movie is still playing. Saito, for example, says he regrets Yamashiro’s murder and wanted to prove that he doesn’t need to be hospitalized any longer.

But Saito surrendered his rights long ago. It is now up to our leaders to do all that they can so we never see the likes of Saito again on our TVs, in our newspapers and online.

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