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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

State Hospital requests new high-security unit

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Following months of criticism about security problems and crowding at the Hawai'i State Hospital, health officials are calling for construction of a high-security unit on the hospital grounds.

"It would expand our capacity and provide for a more secure treatment environment," state health director Bruce Anderson said.

The building would house patients who were charged with crimes but found unfit to stand trial or acquitted by reason of insanity, he said.

The hospital houses many such patients but has suffered a rash of escapes, especially since an aging high-security unit was closed in April.

The closure forced 60 patients and 100 staff members into four remaining units that many say are dangerously crowded with a mix of acutely psychotic patients and more docile ones.

Anderson said architects had determined that fixing various health and safety problems at the 50-year-old unit that was closed would cost nearly as much as building a new one. A new building would likely be similar to existing units but be enclosed by a high fence and include other security measures, he said.

The plan will first be presented to U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang, who in May was appointed special master over a consent decree that requires the hospital to improve patient care.

If Chang approves it, the Health Department will begin preparing a proposal for Gov. Ben Cayetano and the Legislature, Anderson said.

To ease crowding, the Health Department may also transfer some patients to private hospitals and is expanding community-based treatment programs, he said.

Reach Johnny Brannon at 535-2431 or jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com.