KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is planning to demolish two old, unused buildings at its chronically overcrowded State Hospital in Kaneohe and build new facilities that could increase capacity there by more than 50 percent.
There are no cost or time estimates of when the new facilities will be built, but the plans are drawing praise from a mental health advocate.
The Bishop building built in the 1930s for what was then the Territorial Hospital for people with mental illness has been closed and boarded up for years.
Now the state wants to tear it down and is negotiating with a private company that would build and possibly run a 150-bed nursing home there.
"About a third of it would be for individuals who have mental illness that may be discharged from Hawaii State Hospital that are aging, that need long-term care, have complex health needs, not only mental health needs," said Lynn Fallin, the state's deputy director for behavioral health.
That means 50 elderly mentally ill -- many of whom live now at the chronically overcrowded State Hospital -- would be able to move out and into the new nursing home.
The other 100 nursing home beds would be used by other elderly folks needing long-term care, including veterans, Fallin said.
Sources said the company interested in the deal is Avalon Health Care of Utah, which specializes in building and running nursing homes, some of them for psychiatric patients across the country. Avalon runs two nursing homes in Hawaii, one on Oahu and one on the Big Island, according to the company's website.
Marya Grambs, the executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, said the plans are a game changer.
"This can change the entire picture of our state capacity to handle people with mental illness, with severe mental illness," Grambs said.
Grambs said the hospital badly needs to expand its capacity. The facility was built to hold 178 psychiatric patients, is licensed to hold 202 but as of Friday had around 210. All of them are sent there by the courts.
"It will actually mean we will have a community mental hospital for people in the community who need to be hospitalized and right now cannot be hospitalized unless they commit a crime," Grambs said.
By the end of the year, the state also hopes to demolish the Goddard Building, built in 1947 and closed since the early 1990s. The demolition alone will cost $4.7 million.
In its place, the state wants to build a new forensic unit that could hold 100 or more of the most dangerous and potentially violent mental patients.
"It's really the design, which means that the lines of sight are such that patients are visible. There's technology that is modern," said Fallin.
There's no estimate on how much the new building will cost because the state still needs to spend money to design and plan the building before constructing it. Lawmakers will have to find the tens of millions of dollars for that since no money has been appropriated for any phase of the new building except demolition.
"The longer we wait, the more it's going to cost. And we know that the patient need, based on our experience over the last few years, is only going to grow, so there is a sense of urgency," Fallin said.
Even though the state is looking to expand its patient capacity by one third or one half with those new facilities, it is not expanding the hospital's physical footprint in Kaneohe, because it's knocking down old buildings and replacing them with new ones.
Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.