KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under pressure to ease overcrowding at the state's only public mental hospital, the state plans to ask private vendors to build and operate secured mental facilities in the community
The main aim is to divert people away from the state hospital, which has been over capacity for years.
Built to house about 170 patients, the hospital averages about 205 patients these days, and that doesn't count another 42 patients the state houses at Kahi Mohala, a private mental hospital.
The State Hospital is so overcrowded that "We're looking at taking our patient library and taking the books out and putting two beds in. We have therapy areas, classrooms, offices, conference rooms with beds in them," said William May, the State Hospital administrator.
The state Health Department is asking state lawmakers to approve spending $160 million to build a 144-bed facility on hospital grounds. Problem is, planning and construction of that new facility will take at least five years.
"Our concern is that all projections indicate that our admissions are going to just continue going up," May said.
So the state is about to ask private vendors to submit proposals to build and operate one or several small secured facilities for mental patients off hospital grounds, which could be built more quickly than the larger facility at the hospital. The facilities might house around 15 people, health officials said.
Mark Fridovich, the state adult mental health administrator, described the new facilities as "A place that could hold people -- have custody of them -- but isn't a hospital. For those individuals who don't follow the terms of their conditional release, maybe more minor problems."
It's a concept called "secure diversion," to help ease crowding at the State Hospital.
"We're looking at what we can do both to divert patients from being admitted and also to provide more opportunities for individuals who are ready for discharge and approved for discharge by court," Fridovich said.
Health officials know the idea of housing secured mental patients in one or more Oahu neighborhoods will be controversial.
"We think that could be really important. We hope it works. It's a challenge. We've yet to get proposals back, so we're not clear on exactly what the budgetary implications are going to be, but we're optimistic," Fridovich said.
Since the process is just beginning, details about the exact size and proposed location of any new facilities in the community have not been determined yet. A request for proposals is scheduled to go out in about two weeks, officials said.
The state already houses hundreds of mental patients at group homes across Hawaii, but a secured, privately run facility would serve as an intermediate-level place between those halfway houses and the State Hospital, health officials said.