Kauai’s inpatient addiction and psychiatric treatment center has stood mostly empty since local officials celebrated its grand opening in December 2019.

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Built on donated land with more than $7 million in state and county taxpayer funds, the eight-bedroom facility was intended to offer youth in the community struggling with drug dependency and mental illness a way to get help without having to leave the island.

Now overgrown with hip-high weeds, the 6-acre site has become to some local leaders a reminder of a long list of community needs: mental health and addiction resources. Jail diversion services. Programs for at-risk youth.

“It pains me to drive by the property,” said Lance Segawa, CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s Kauai Region. “It looks like a property that was just condemned.”

Frustrated over the vacant facility, HHSC last year formed a nonprofit subsidiary known as Kauai Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing, or KATCH. Made up of HHSC stakeholders, as well as state health regulators, public school leaders and concerned community members, the group cast a vision for opening the 16,000-square-foot building to serve its original intent.

Kauai's adolescent treatment center facility is overgrown with weeds.
The lawn is overgrown at Kauai’s $7 million Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center, a county facility built on land donated by Grove Farm. First proposed in 2003, the building was constructed in 2019 and has since largely stood vacant. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2022

In June, Kauai County offered to transfer ownership of the adolescent treatment center to HHSC, which operates Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital and Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital on Kauai, and its new non-profit arm KATCH.

Eight months later, the pending property transfer remains under legal review. A nearly two-decade effort to open an inpatient treatment facility on Kauai remains on hold.

“The land transfer is vital and while we wait for it to go through everything is in limbo,” said KATCH board member Mel Rapozo, who is a county investigator and former county councilman.

When the land transfer takes place, KATCH is expected to take control of $1.3 million in state funding to jumpstart operations. The county also plans to dedicate $200,000 in federal funds to the project from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Figuring out how to fund the treatment center will determine its success.

Residential treatment programs are expensive to operate, Segawa said, and he doesn’t think the center can rely on government funding to survive. It’s likely that the facility would need to collect insurance money and solicit donations from large private funders to stay afloat.

“The last thing we want to do is open this up and then close two years later because we can’t make it financially,” he said.

KATCH had hoped to open the facility by February, according to Rapozo. As the project continues to stall, he said he’s frustrated by the sheer number of hurdles that continue to prevent the center from opening to patients.

“The last thing we want to do is open this up and then close two years later because we can’t make it financially.”  — CEO Lance Segawa, Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s Kauai Region

“For our kids here, the challenges to get help are real,” Rapozo said. “There’s nothing available for our kids here. And oftentimes when there’s facilities or programs off of Kauai, there’s a waiting list.”

“We believe that part of treatment is you need the family support, which would require you to be on island,” he added. “It’s why it’s so vital that we have a facility here so that family support can be a component of the treatment.”

The building’s lack of productivity is the result of a series of events, such as the county’s decision to cancel its contract with the Oahu-based operator it hired to run the facility — a move that led the ousted operator to sue the county.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the county, still lacking a service provider for the facility, chose to repurpose the still-vacant building as an isolation center for people infected with the disease.

Fed up by delays in getting the facility up and running, Grove Farm Co. President Warren Haruki ultimately called on the county to return Grove Farm’s 6-acre land gift, lamenting that it had been more than four years since the land gift was made and the property still had “not been used a single day for adolescents, which is the basis of our donation.”

The center’s failure to open coincides with a time when the island is dealing with a rise in fentanyl abuse, a suicide problem and a longstanding lack of mental health and drug addiction resources.

“It needs to be put back on the front burner,” Rapozo said. “That land was donated for a specific purpose and we need to comply with that requirement. That is my biggest fear — if we go down the road of accepting donations from private landowners and we do not use the gift for its intended purpose it’s going to be difficult to get others to donate. I’m very concerned about the message this could send.”

Civil Beat’s health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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