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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 26, 2002

State hospital's progress noted

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state is making substantial headway in its efforts to ensure that conditions at the Hawai'i State Hospital comply with federal law, according to a report filed in federal court yesterday.

Although the report from Federal Magistrate Kevin Chang was generally supportive of efforts by state officials to improve conditions at the hospital, Chang was highly critical of a decision to close what was the most secure building on the hospital grounds in Kane'ohe.

Chang said that when the Guensberg Building was closed in March, some of the hospital's most violent patients had to be moved to other buildings, resulting in crowded conditions and higher staff and patient stress levels.

The Hawai'i State Hospital is where the state's most severely mentally ill patients are treated, and security there has been a major concern amid a spate of escapes in recent years. In 1991 a federal lawsuit was brought against the state for keeping people at the hospital longer than necessary, and the hospital remains under federal oversight.

Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health, which operates the hospital, said he was pleased with Chang's assessment and the plan Chang proposed to correct the remaining hospital deficiencies.

The improvement plan does not call for additional money for more staff or major building projects at the hospital, Anderson said, but focuses primarily on beefing up community-based mental health services.

Anderson said that as of yesterday, the hospital had about 140 patients who were being housed in areas designed to accommodate 108 people.

He said the hospital is moving ahead with plans to repair the Guensberg Building, which should be ready to house patients again in July. When the remodeling work is done, the building will house about 60 patients, Anderson said.

Since the filing of the federal lawsuit, much of the past decade has been spent trying to deinstitutionalize the delivery of services to the state's mentally ill population. "You can't just take people out of the hospital and turn them loose on the community," Anderson said.

But while the state did its best to discharge patients who no longer needed to be treated in a hospital, admissions increased, Anderson said.

He said the state will "always need a hospital to treat acutely mentally ill patients." But the focus will be on stabilizing most of the patients so that they can be moved to community-based facilities.

The plan Chang proposed should allow the state to bring an end to federal court oversight of the state hospital within two or three years, Anderson said.