Sen Clayton Hee, who chairs a special committee created to investigate the Hawaii State Hospital, toured the Kaneohe mental facility Wednesday ahead of a scheduled hearing next week.
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At the conclusion of the private tour, Hee told reporters the hospital has gone backwards since emerging from a court-ordered federal consent decree in 2006.
"My own opinion is there's been a slippage from 2006," said Hee.
Oversight of the hospital was ordered by federal Judge David Ezra to address staffing shortages and the rampant abuse of patients. Eight years later the situation has flipped, and it's now hospital employees who are fearful of being attacked. The facility averages an assault every three days, and according to statistics compiled by the state, there were 1,200 attacks from 2006 to 2013, although some were considered nonviolent.
Hee said he was surprised when he walked into a surveillance monitoring room at the hospital and noticed about 10 screens were turned off.
"Even if there's nobody in that area, to me, the camera ought to be on," said the senator.
The Hawaii State Hospital was built to handle about 170 patients, but there are currently 202 patients. Another 40 patients are being housed at Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health in Ewa Beach because there's not enough room. Hee said what the state truly needs is a forensic facility, not a hospital.
"This facility is way too small, (and) that's only from a physical point of view," said Hee. "This facility is also not equipped to deal with psychotic, drug-induced individuals."
The hospital has also been plagued by issues of overtime and sick leave, and has accumulated a deficit of $5.2 million. Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the agency will cover the shortfall by transferring money to a hospital account in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
"We're trying to understand the (overtime) issue and we're just about ready to engage the unions to understand how they can be part of the solution," said Hee.
The special investigative committee is also examining allegations of nepotism at the hospital after several high-ranking employees were found to have hired relatives.
"The individuals who allegedly were involved expressed to me that if they could do it differently, they would do it differently," said Hee. "These will all in my opinion come to a head when the Ethics Commission conducts its own investigative hearings."
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission has promised to launch its own probe of the Hawaii State Hospital once the investigative committee finishes its work. The committee has scheduled a hearing next Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the state Capitol.
Hee, who was the only committee member to take the tour Wednesday, is also trying to organize a meet and greet with hospital employees so workers can speak more freely while not in the presence of supervisors.