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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 18, 2001

State Hospital security is not an option

The Hawai'i State Hospital in Kane'ohe houses patients, not prisoners. But that's no excuse for the frequent escapes from the facility.

James Morgan Huffman's latest flight from the hospital illustrates that failure to provide adequate security is a danger not only to the public but to the patients themselves. Huffman was badly hurt early Thursday when he allegedly jumped off a freeway overpass.

The troubled facility faces problems on multiple fronts. The hospital has been harshly criticized for escapes by patients accused of criminal acts, and for failing to comply with court-ordered improvement goals that resulted from a 1991 federal lawsuit.

There's also the question of whether state officials are up to coping with the challenges presented by the facility, instead pushing for privatization despite an apparent lack of interest from private operators.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has complained that court-ordered requirements have rendered the hospital "dysfunctional." Cayetano says a new privatization law might be the solution.

Privatization is certainly worth looking into, but there's no magic in it. A private operation would have to satisfy the federal courts every bit as much as the state does.

And it would have to to do more to provide security at the hospital — just as the state Health Department must.