Last spring Kauai County canceled its contract with Oahu-based Hope Treatment Services to operate a new eight-bed youth rehabilitation center, citing problems with the company’s “performance and responsiveness.”

At the time, the director of Hope Treatment Services said the county broke his contract to provide inpatient drug treatment to youth because it couldn’t obtain a license to operate fast enough.

Now the drug addiction treatment and mental health services provider is alleging that it never had a shot to meet the county’s March 31, 2020 deadline to open the facility.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Hope Treatment Services alleges Kauai County seized control of the $7 million taxpayer-funded inpatient adolescent treatment center on March 13 and repurposed the building as an isolation center for people infected with COVID-19, citing emergency proclamations by Gov. David Ige and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

The lawsuit alleges that the county has since effectively barred Hope Treatment Services from the premises.

“The termination was ostensibly based on false and/or otherwise misleading allegations — namely that the (treatment center) was empty and non-operational,” the lawsuit reads. “In fact, (the county) made it impossible for (Hope Treatment Services) to perform.”

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

Kauai County officials did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Donald Perpignan, facility manager at Hope Treatment Services, declined to comment and referred any requests for comment to the company’s lawyer.

The lawsuit alleges that ever since the county breached its contract with Hope Treatment Services it has unjustly benefited from the service provider’s investments in the building.

In addition to establishing service for utilities, internet and pest control, Hope Treatment Services claims it purchased beds, dormitory supplies, office furniture, a television, kitchen supplies and tools for the treatment center, all of which remain at the facility.

Hope Treatment Services also invested in a license to operate the facility from the state Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance, as well as a Health Department permit to operate the facility’s kitchen. The company interviewed job applicants on multiple islands and attended a December 2019 county-sponsored event celebrating the treatment center’s construction.

Today 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.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the county is being asked by the development company that donated more than five acres of land for the 16,000-square-foot treatment center to give the land back.

Grove Farm Co. President Warren Haruki said the property title should automatically revert back to Grove Farm since the county has not used the land for its intended purpose for more than two years.

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, the Kauai mayor’s chief of staff.

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 last week 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.”

But Haruki said he’s afraid the county has 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.

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.

Haruki said he wants Grove Farm to take the land back so that it can lease it for $1 per year to Kauai Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing, or KATCH, a new nonprofit organization formed last month to try and get the treatment center up and running.

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