HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A State Senate special investigative committee plans to subpoena 19 state health employees as its first witnesses in a wide-ranging probe into problems at the state's only public mental hospital. The Senate investigation began after Hawaii News Now first reported complaints in November by hospital employees who've been severely beaten by violent mental patients and out of work for months.
The committee is sending subpoenas to Lynn Fallin, deputy director for behavioral health and Bill Elliott, the state hospital's acting administrator, both of whom sat in the front row as committee co-chairs explained what they plan to investigate Wednesday.
"We expect, as we've discussed, that the questions may range widely about the full scope of safety at the hospital," said State Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor and co-chair of the special panel.
Also watching things from the front row were a state hospital nurse and psychiatric technician who first told their stories to Hawaii News Now in November, about serious attacks by mental patients that have kept them out of work for months.
"We are glad that certain people at the State Hospital are being subpoenaed for information. We are excited to hear their answers to our complaints," said State Hospital nurse Josh Akeo, who's been out of work since he was injured on the job last August.
Kalford Keanu, a psychiatric technician who was hurt on the job and has been out since October of 2013 said, "Hopefully the truth will come out. It should come out. And when it does, hopefully everybody can be treated fairly, and above all, the patients can get the care that they deserve."
Senators said they are issuing subpoenas to compel people to testify under oath and plan to issue more to hospital personnel clerks who may expose low staffing levels, excessive overtime pay and other problems.
"I realize they may not wish to appear because of retaliation, but the subpoena is to protect them," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, co-chair of the special panel.
Senators fear the mental hospital has failed to live up to federal settlements in 1991, 1996 and 2003 that guaranteed the state would not use excessive overtime or lots of agency employees to maintain proper staffing levels.
"Those most responsible for allowing this to occur need to be called to account," Hee said.
Green said: "This has been a problem over the course of three previous governors' administrations and we really want to solve these problems definitively."
"Department of Health is open to providing information to the senate panel about its concerns. We will work with the Legislature on solutions to the current challenges faced by Hawaii State Hospital and its increasing census," said Faillin, the deputy director for behavoral health, in a written statement.
The first five witnesses, who will testify under oath, are scheduled to appear before the committee March 27. They include Fallin, Elliot, State Health Director Linda Rosen, Adult Mental Health Division Administrator Mark Fridovich, the facility's former administrator, and Dr. William Sheehan, the hospital's associate administrator of clinical services.
Another 14 employees, including Director of Nursing Leona Guest and seven nurse managers, will be called at another date, senators said.
The senate investigation could take months, Green said.
It's the first time in six years that the Senate has subpoenaed people in an investigation. The last time was in 2008, during a probe of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism's $8.7 million hydrogen fund.
Senators held two hearings in January, mainly focusing on injuries suffered by employees and managers' response to assaults at the hospital. But the senators received phone calls, emails, faxes and letters from state hospital employees and widened their investigation to look into not only workplace safety but "administrative improprieties and failure to conform to established employment policies and practices," according to the special investigative committee's agenda.