EXCLUSIVE: State Hospital had most patients ever last month - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

EXCLUSIVE: State Hospital had most patients ever last month

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The Hawaii State Hospital, which has been dealing with chronic overcrowding in recent years, had 216 mental patients last month, its highest number ever, exceeding its licensed capacity of 202 patients, state health officials said.

The patient census hit its high point on March 9 and as of Monday, the number of patients had fallen to 205. But that's still three more than the official licensed capacity of the hospital, that was built to house 176 patients.

The state cannot turn down the admission of mental patients to the facility, since all of them are now sentenced there by state judges, often because they have committed a crime but are found mentally unfit to stand trial.

Dr. Bill Sheehan, the State Hospital's medical director, said the overcrowding is the result of several factors.

"Frequency of court orders, people using drugs, people getting arrested. People using placements in the community, people losing housing. Having a hard time finding jobs and keeping jobs. So just the combination of things that result in a relapse of psychosis or whatever their mental illness is," Sheehan said.

The overcrowding means the hospital has turned classrooms and offices into temporary patient rooms.

"We do what we can to keep people safe and assure their privacy while at the same time meeting their treatment needs," Sheehan said.

The Health Department has asked lawmakers for $1.75 million for additional security as well as$2.9 million more for other overcrowding costs.

"All your expenses go up too, like food and water and electricity and staffing and all the kinds of things that have to go along with taking care of more people," Sheehan said.

State health officials are also asking lawmakers for $2.2 million to demolish the two-story Goddard building on the State Hospital grounds. The building, built in 1947, has been empty since about 1992. The Health Department wants to build a new building there, increasing the capacity of the State Hospital, something that will cost millions more and take years to complete.

The sister of Crystal Dallass knows the problems of the overcrowded mental health system first hand. Melinda Dallass said her sister has been homeless on the streets of Honolulu for much of the past year. Crystal Dallass, 30, is eight months pregnant, severely mentally ill and addicted to crystal methamphetamine, her sister Melinda said.

Crystal spent much of the last two weeks at Queens Medical Center's psychiatric unit after she complained demons were speaking to her and was concerned people were trying to light her on fire. But Queens discharged her over the weekend, Melinda Dallass said.

"Because she has an addiction, because she's mentally ill and because she's pregnant, there's nowhere that will take her. How can that be for people who are here and who need help? You know, she's eight months pregnant," Melinda Dallass said.

Private hospitals like Queens and Castle Medical Center won't keep a mental patient against their will unless they are an immediate danger to themselves or others.

"It basically has to be after the fact that she injures somebody or herself for them to help her. I mean it's insane to me," said Melinda Dallass.

The Institute for Human Services agreed to take Crystal Dallass in over the weekend in a "special case" because she's pregnant and so vulnerable, Melinda Dallass said.

Melinda said she's grateful to IHS for taking in her sister, because otherwise, "We're just letting people wander around to the point where they are so ill that they're a threat, a serious threat and they attack somebody or do something terrible to themselves and that's when we'll help them. It's crazy."

Up until about 10 years ago, people like Crystal's sister could voluntarily admit their loved ones to the State Hospital. But because it's so overcrowded, that doesn't happen anymore. Judges are the only ones who can send people to the State Hospital in recent years. Before, family members and private doctors could contact the hospital to admit their loved ones.

In a trend that's happened nationwide, the State Hospital has become full of forensic or criminal patients.

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