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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 4, 2006

Mental-health program doing better, judge says

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

Kevin Chang

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State health officials are making "reasonable best efforts" to substantially comply with a community mental-health plan to serve Hawai'i's thousands of seriously mentally ill residents, a federal magistrate reported yesterday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang said state health officials met by an April 30 deadline most of the dozen goals that would show they are striving to comply with the plan that would provide services, housing and treatment for the estimated 11,000 people.

The report most likely eliminates the threat by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who last month found that the state was not doing its best to comply with the plan by a June 30 deadline. Ezra warned that he would hold the state in contempt and place the programs under federal receivership if state officials failed to demonstrate they were doing their best by April 30.

Chang earlier set the dozen "benchmarks" the state must meet to demonstrate their "reasonable best efforts."

In a five-page report, Chang found that state officials have "established that they are putting forth reasonable best efforts to achieve substantial compliance" with the plan.

He said he "strongly encourages" state officials to "maintain the momentum built over the past few weeks and keep up the good work."

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said he was "very pleased" with the report and the hard work of the Adult Mental Health Division of the state Department of Health. He said he also appreciates the hard work of Chang and Kris McLoughlin, the special monitor assisting him, and the Justice Department.

Bennett said Ezra will now decide what to do next, but said he hopes the U.S. Department of Justice will "accept Judge Chang's findings as accurate."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Yee said he had no immediate comment on the report.

Chang found that state health officials met "benchmarks" that included developing procedures relating to the release of Hawai'i State Hospital patients acquitted of crimes by reason of insanity, and procedures for former patients who face recommitment to the facility.

The one goal that Chang found was not met dealt with results of a telephone survey that were supposed to be sent to case-management agencies.

Chang was appointed by Ezra to help him oversee the community mental-health plan that is the result of the U.S. Justice Department civil rights lawsuit alleging unconstitutional conditions at the state hospital. The hospital emerged from federal oversight in late 2004, but Ezra retained oversight over the community plan.

The plan was supposed to be implemented in January 2005, but state officials fell behind, and the new deadline is now June 30.

Ezra's concerns were based on a report in February by Chang, who found the state still significantly lagged in developing the plan, resulting in overcrowding at the state hospital and other problems.

Based on that report, U.S. Justice Department lawyers had asked Ezra to impose unspecified sanctions on the state. Ezra declined to impose any sanctions but issued the warning about contempt and set the April 30 deadline.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.