Health workers suing the state - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Health workers suing the state

Thomas Vendetti Thomas Vendetti
Angela Correale Angela Correale
Chiyome Fukino Chiyome Fukino
Eric Seitz Eric Seitz
Vendetti & Correale Vendetti & Correale

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email 

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thomas Vendetti has helped Maui's mentally ill for eight years. Angela Correale has done the same on Kauai for two years.

They along with Anne Sturgis on the Big Island were employed by the state as Service Area Administrators until they were fired.

Now the trio is suing health director Chiyome Fukino.

The civil lawsuit alleges they were let go for speaking out against cuts to Hawaii's mental health services.

"The harm they have done by terminating people in critical positions and cutbacks that they have directed is simply incalculable," attorney Eric Seitz said.

The suit claims Fukino and other Health department officials sought to conceal problems with the mental health system by telling the plaintiff's to change their reports or delete their concerns over cutbacks in programs and services.

"I think for us what they wanted was they wanted us to stop complaining," Correale said. "This is a real signal of, 'We don't want anybody watching what we're doing.'"

"When I presented my report to our executive team, they were extremely angry and almost hostile in terms of the response," Vendetti said.

Correale said she was prevented from investigating attempted suicide cases on Kauai involving mentally ill patients.

"I think one of my frustrations was not being able to go back and look at the files and see what were factors that contributed to this," she said.

Vendetti said cutbacks will cost taxpayers.

"People are going to become institutionalized," he said. "They're going to end up back in the State Hospital, back in the jails, and also using high-ended emergency services which has already started."

In a statement, Health department spokesperson Janice Okubo said the department is unable to comment on pending litigation.

"As we continually evaluate and improve our system for statewide behavioral health services, our first and foremost concern is the health and safety of those we serve," she said.

Vendetti and Correale want their jobs back.

Their lawsuit also asks for damages.

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