- Special Projects
In the aftermath of Randall Saito’s escape from the Hawaii State Hospital last week, a state senator is calling on the Ige administration to double the number of security personnel at the Kaneohe facility.
State Sen. Josh Green, who co-chaired a special investigative committee that examined the State Hospital’s operation in 2014, says 15 additional guards should be hired to secure Hawaii’s only state-run psychiatric facility, which now houses 202 patients.
If necessary, Green says, Gov. David Ige should exercise his discretion to send some sheriff’s deputies to help ward off future escapes from the State Hospital.
“This should continue at least until all internal security and safety assessments are completed by the Department of Public Safety and other relevant parties,” Green said in a letter he sent Tuesday to the Hawaii Department of Health, which operates the State Hospital.
The beefed-up security is part of a multi-pronged strategy that Green says the Ige administration should adopt immediately.
Green, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, also recommends that the State Hospital “freeze” admission of “highly assaultive” patients, as well as those with a history of violence — including not bringing back four patients housed by a South Carolina contractor “due to intractable dangerous behaviors” and sending more violent patients to the mainland.
“Once the security is expedited and in place, they can resume taking those patients,” Green said. “It’s the only responsible approach.”
Green told Civil Beat that he came up with his recommendations after meeting with William May, the State Hospital’s administrator, and Lynn Fallin, deputy director of the Behavioral Health Services Administration, on Monday.
“These initial steps should provide the necessary safety, security and peace of mind for our community and should give you the necessary capacity to focus on the critical work at hand, providing clinical services to some of the most challenging patients in Hawaii,” Green said in his letter.
Ige, who was traveling to Kona on Tuesday afternoon, could not be reached for comment.
Anna Koethe, a department spokeswoman, released a statement, noting the State Hospital is ordering more fencing and has suspended all patients’ “on-ground unescorted and off-grounds un-escorted privileges”
The department “appreciates the recommendations of Senator Josh Green and other legislators who have offered their support and advice,” the statement reads. “Prior to this event, the hospital has used additional funding to place guards at all units and at the perimeter of the hospital grounds. Since then, we evaluated our current security level and have already reassigned security staff.”
Ultimately, Green says, what the state needs is the 144-bed facility reserved for high-risk patients that’s being built as part of a master plan to more than double the capacity of the State Hospital.
Green says the Ige administration should pull out all stops to fast-track the construction — enough to move up the completion date, now set for December 2020, by a year.
“This should be feasible, given the security need we have and the reality that other much larger projects like courthouses and large condominiums are being completed in Hawaii in much shorter time frames,” Green said.
“If necessary, the governor should invoke (the state of emergency) to cut through any governmental obstacles to rapidly complete this project.”
But State Sen. Jill Tokuda, whose district includes Kaneohe, cautioned against rushing the project.
“You won’t find anybody who wants the new forensic facility to be built in the most efficient and effective way as possible — as quickly as possible — more than me. I have been working on this project as long as I have been in the office,” said Tokuda, who is also running for Lieutenant Governor.
“But I have seen the state screw up so many big projects. So, for a project of this scale and magnitude and complexity, do it well and do it right. I don’t want us to rush a $160 million project — one of the largest CIP projects that we have appropriated in my recent memory — and fail.”
Tokuda added that she’s had a number of meetings with May to come up with better ways to inform the surrounding community in the event of escape.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin is now spearheading an investigation to find out how Saito managed to escape and take two flights to California before the public was notified.
May is “setting up meetings with the neighborhood board, as well as the community associations,” Tokuda said.
“I talked today with him about even reaching out to the surrounding churches in the neighborhood, as well as the county parks services and schools, because they have social media networks and a lot of different ways to communicate.
“For me, the bottom line is how can we better communicate as a community to get the word out and keep people safe,” Tokuda said.