KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Six months after a Hawaii News Now investigation revealed Hawaii State Hospital employees were suffering serious injuries from mental patients' assaults, the state Labor Department has cited the facility with six serious workplace safety violations.
The found the hospital failed to protect employees from an average of one assault every three days, so some of them have suffered serious long-term injuries.
State Health Director Dr. Linda Rosen said the department is making improvements.
"There could be more that we could be doing in evaluating the incidents and feeding that back into training and then checking if our employees are really able to follow all of the proper steps," Rosen said.
The investigation found some employees failed to respond to "panic alarms" activated when patients or staff are being assaulted at the hospital.
The probe determined "multiple employees did not know about, understand or retain the knowledge to eliminate and control hazards …" of dealing with dangerous mental patients.
The workplace safety investigation also said "… training and practice drills are not realistic and/or practical to prepare them for the real life situations they may encounter with assaultive, unstable patients."
Rosen said the facility's training program is being revamped.
"How is training conducted, where is it conducted? Who is participating, I think one of the suggestions was that some of the front-line employees be more involved in training, which sounds like a good idea," Rosen said.
The Labor Department has proposed $33,000 in fines for the violations, an amount that could decrease when the Health Department negotiates further with state labor officials.
The probe said the state failed to assess the hospital for hazards that would require the use of personal protective equipment.
Rosen said the hospital is working to provide masks and gloves to employees more often, to protect them from patients who sometimes spit on them.
The investigation also found six hospital vans and one sedan did not have partitions or barriers to protect employees from potentially-volatile patients.
Hawaii News Now first reported Nov. 11 the stories of four hospital staffers who'd been out of work for weeks, months and even years after suffering assaults by mental patients. They complained of lax management and training as well as understaffing.
State Senators Josh Green and Clayton Hee launched a special State Senate investigation into problems at the hospital and held a half dozen hearings so far this year looking into injuries, nepotism, management and other problems at the hospital. For the first time in six years, the State Senate subpoenaed witnesses and documents as part of that probe, which could continue for several months more.
The Health Department announced Tuesday it has selected William J. May to be the new administrator of the hospital, starting July 7. He is currently the superintendent of the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, a psychiatric hospital that's more than twice as big as Hawaii's facility.
Bill Elliott, the Hawaii State Hospital's associate administrator, has been the acting administrator of the facility for more than a year. Elliott will return to his associate administrator position when May starts work there this summer, health officials said.
The state's 202-bed mental hospital operates with more than 600 employees and a $52 million annual budget.
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