For years, the state agency in charge of managing licensed professionals has struggled to manage its growing workload with outdated technology.
Hawaii’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office oversees thousands of professionals working in industries ranging from health care to construction. Residents rely on RICO to deal with complaints on topics ranging from condo association fee increases to sexual harassment.
“It used to be one in 25 Americans was licensed now it’s like one in five,” said Daria Loy-Goto, who until recently was RICO’s complaints and enforcement officer. “We’ve gone from an agency who used to oversee 80,000 to an agency who probably oversees 160,000 licensees in the last 20 years with no increase in staffing.”
Loy-Goto, who stepped down after two decades at the agency, said limited resources have contributed to backlogs, a problem compounded by the agency’s outdated system for tracking complaints.
“It was built off of a Wang database, I kid you not,” Loy-Goto said of the complaints tracking system, referring to a software company that went bankrupt in 1992. “We have been so hampered by the lack of technology.”
William Nhieu, spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs which oversees RICO, said the agency is in the process of testing new technology — called the Investigative Management Processing and Case Tracking — to replace the existing “aged and no longer supported” complaints management system. But he’s not sure when the program will be fully implemented.
“We cannot with any degree of certainty say how long testing will be, and, when the system will be fully implemented,” he said in an email, adding that the goal is to make sure the system works well.
Maui resident Lauraine Ayers-Briel says it took her six months to gather up the courage to report her alleged sexual assault at the hands of a local physician.
But nearly a year after filing a complaint at RICO, she’s still wondering what happened to her case — and why the physician she accused is still licensed to practice.
Ayers-Briel’s case is part of what appears to be an upswing in sexual misconduct cases — something Loy-Goto has observed but says she can’t confirm because of the lack of data.
“I think we’ve handled more sexual misconduct complaints in the last three years than I think we did over the past 20 years,” Loy-Goto said in a phone interview prior to leaving the agency.
But she said she’d have to sift through numerous paper files to determine what exactly the backlog and increase is.
“I would have to go back and hand count,” she says. “Literally.”
Hawaii residents can’t file complaints online. To submit hers, Ayers-Briel printed out a PDF, signed it and mailed it to Honolulu on April 29. She received a letter from RICO acknowledging her complaint one month later.
“If a complaint comes into our intake unit and they want to ask me a question about it, somebody hand-walks that file over to me,” Loy-Goto said. “I feel like we are just moving at this snail’s pace.”
Because of that, Loy-Goto said the agency cannot provide data on how many sexual harassment or assault complaints have been filed or how long they take to process.
The agency has sought to improve efficiency by triaging important cases and giving priority to sexual misconduct complaints. They have also implemented weekly meetings with supervisors to review new cases.
Prior to stepping down, Loy-Goto was looking forward to the new system in part because she said complaints filed on Maui would have to be physically mailed to Honolulu. She hopes the new system will allow people to file complaints online.
“To be able to have a conversation with someone from our intake unit and both of us being able to look at the same thing on our screen,” she said. “It’s going to be game-changing.”
In the meantime, Ayers-Briel — who filed a police report along with her a RICO complaint — has been frustrated by the agency’s silence. By now it’s been a year and a half since her alleged assault.
“I just assumed from the time I handed (the complaint) off that it would be dealt with,” she said. “And in fact, it was just the beginning, because nothing happened.”
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