Two years ago Kauai officials celebrated the completion of the island’s first inpatient drug treatment center in three decades. 

It was a long time coming.

Built on donated land with more than $7 million in state and county taxpayer funds, Kauai’s Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center was intended to offer drug-dependent youth in the community a way to get help without having to leave the island.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the county, which had not yet secured a service provider, chose to repurpose the still-vacant building as an isolation center for people infected with COVID-19.

Now, as the pandemic winds down, the development company that gifted more than five acres to the county for the 16,000-square-foot treatment center is asking the county to give the land back.

“It has been four years and four months since the land was given and over that period it has not been used a single day for adolescents, which is the basis of our donation,” said Grove Farm Company President Warren Haruki, adding that property title automatically reverts back to Grove Farm if the land isn’t used for its intended purpose for more than two years.

The lawn is overgrown at Kauai’s $7 million Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center, a county facility built on land donated by Grove Farm. For the last 15 months it has operated as an isolation facility for people infected with COVID-19. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2021

But Kauai County has no intention of returning the land to Grove Farm, especially considering the multimillion dollar taxpayer investment to construct the facility, according to Sarah Blane, chief of staff to Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Although the land deed grants title to the county on the condition that the property be used for adolescent and adult health care, Blane argued in a prepared statement that the property’s use for coronavirus patients meets that obligation.

“While the present health care activities are not what was initially envisioned, they are nevertheless temporary,” Blane said in the statement. “Our intention was and will always be to see this facility treat the substance abuse needs of our community.”

Last year the county canceled its contract with an Oahu-based treatment provider to operate the eight-bed youth rehabilitation center, citing problems with the company’s “performance and responsiveness.”

At the time, Kauai County Managing Director Michael Dahilig wouldn’t provide specifics about why the county’s agreement with Hope Treatment Services went south.

But on Wednesday Blane said the original business model for the treatment center was flawed because it did not account for additional government support for operational costs.

“Two failed request for proposal attempts asking vendors to cover their costs without subsidy show that the model will not work, and more help is needed,” Blane said in a statement.

If the land were back in Grove Farm’s possession, the company says it would lease it for $1 per year to a new nonprofit formed last month to get the treatment center up and running. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2021

In April Senate President Ron Kouchi announced $1.3 million in additional state funding to jumpstart operations at the treatment center. The county also plans to dedicate to the project $200,000 in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

But Haruki said his concern is that the county seems to have had a change of heart.

Last June, the county announced a new post-pandemic plan for the facility. Instead of housing youth with drug and alcohol dependency problems, the building would be a hub for preexisting services for at-risk youth and families, such as crime victims and witness protection services, Kauai Teen Court and Life’s Choices Kauai.

An inpatient treatment program would not be an impossibility for the future, county officials said at the time. But in the immediate absence of a service provider to operate a treatment program at the facility, county officials said the new plan would prevent the building from going unused.

In a letter to Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami last June, Haruki said he was disappointed that the original vision for the facility “was not given a chance to succeed.”

Haruki said in the letter that no one at Grove Farm was contacted about the planned changes for the use of the facility.

He noted that Grove Farm and the county years ago entered into a memorandum of agreement, which states that the property “shall be utilized in perpetuity solely for adult and adolescent health care use.”

“It doesn’t appear that the original permitted use will ever be pursued,” Haruki wrote.

If the land were back in Grove Farm’s possession, Haruki said the company would immediately lease it for $1 per year to Kauai Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing, or KATCH, a new nonprofit formed last month to get the treatment center up and running. Lance Segawa, chief executive officer of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation’s Kauai Region, is chairman of KATCH’s Board of Directors. 

If KATCH were to fulfill the original intent of the land donation over time, Haruki said Grove Farm would eventually like to donate the land to the nonprofit.

“We don’t have a penny to be gained in this transaction,” Haruki said. “We just want to see the adolescents who are in need of this facility be served.”

For now, the treatment center remains in use as Kauai’s official COVID-19 isolation facility. 

A total of 74 people infected with the virus stayed at the facility between March 2, 2020 and June 15, 2021, according to Hawaii Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr. Of those patients, 58 were Kauai residents and 16 were visitors to the island.

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