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Lawmakers call for investigative hearing into state hospital assaults

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Nov 20 2013 05:48:00 PM HST

Workers at the Hawaii State Hospital open up about assaults from patients, prompting two senators to call for a special investigative hearing into the attacks.

HONOLULU -

"I got injured by him hitting me in the head and slamming me against the wall," said Emelinda Yarte.

Yarte has lived with pain for four years, after being attacked by a mixed martial arts fighter at the Hawaii State Hospital.

And she was also living with fear, because she was told by the prosecutor's office that he had been released.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz's report.

"I cannot sleep. I do not want to go out knowing that the patient is outside. I don't know what is going to happen.  Was I going to see him?  I got so scared. He is out in the community?  I got scared," said Yarte.

 There are four workers suffering from post-traumatic stress and their doctor says he could no longer be silent.

"They have all been recommended to psychologists to see them get through this, but we are getting resistance form the state to allow that to be treated which I think is a major issue," said Dr. Scott Miscovich.

One-by-one they recounted their attacks.

"I was sitting at my post and a patient was walking by and he just punched me in the head for no reason," said Ryan Oyama.

"The patient had also assaulted someone else two days prior. He could have been put in restraints for the weekend to be evaluated, but that choice wasn’t made and as a result I was assaulted. It happens a lot," said Kalford Keanu Jr.

And a charge nurse knocked unconscious in an attack is calling for a review of the current treatment policies.

 “It's very difficult to begin treatment when he is violent. He is punching He is spitting. He is biting. It's very, very difficult," said Joshua Akua.

“The hospital has long had a history of problems. At one time, it had been under a federal court order to improve the overcrowding and poor condition of its facilties.

Much has improved over the years, but staffing remains an issue for some.

Six years ago lawmakers passed a law making assault on hospital staff a class C felony. But some senators say changing times may mean a review of current practices is overdue.

"Crystal methamphetamine entered in this society 15-25 years ago and created a new class of violence and mental illness. So this new class of violence and mental illness has ended up with the suffering of these good people," said Sen. Josh Green

"The voices that you hear today are the voices that are at risk every day at that hospital, at this very moment," said Sen. Clayton Hee.

The hospital does have private security patrolling the premises, but the state says in keeping with national standards for hospitals, armed guards are not allowed on staff.

The state  health department declined an on-camera intervew, but issued a written statement, saying the well-being of staff is a priority.

It says there have been 90 reported assaults at the hospital so far this year. But it is down from 120 last year -- and 132 the year before.

Six of the cases this year resulted in loss work time.  There were four the year before and six in 2011.

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