Much-needed expansion of Hawaii State Hospital ahead of schedule

Updated: Oct. 10, 2019 at 4:24 PM HST
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KANEOHE, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Work is progressing on a new, $160 million building at the Hawaii State Hospital.

It’s about two months ahead of schedule, but it can’t come soon enough for a facility that is overcrowded with patients who can’t be turned away.

When completed, the four-story building will have 144 beds for patients who’ve been ordered to be at the hospital by the courts, known as forensic patients.

Safety is a big watchword.

“Safety for our patients, safety for staff, safety for the community, and doing this in a away that also creates healing and creates recovery for the folks that need it,” said Ed Mersereau, deputy director for behavioral health.

It’s also being done in a way that will prevent patients from walking away or escaping, such as the high-profile escape of admitted killer Randall Saito in 2017.

“Everything is under one roof, and this will definitely help the community feel safer," said hospital administrator Dr. Run Heidelberg. “When we have to leave a facility to go to other facilities to provide care, that is a weak spot, especially when you’re dealing with forensic patients.”

As of Thursday, the hospital had 212 patients, along with 48 lower-risk patients at Kahi Mohala.

The hospital is licensed to have 202 beds, but has been granted waivers to convert some non-patient rooms into patient rooms, bringing the current maximum capacity to 230 beds.

“We were in jeopardy of maybe coming under court supervision for our mental health facilities, and that just adds layers and dollars and requirements that we really don’t need,” said state Sen. Roz Baker, who was among a group of lawmakers who toured the construction site.

By law, the hospital cannot turn away an individual ordered to go there by the court. Those who need treatment but who aren’t in the justice system are going elsewhere.

“Right now they’re being handled by wherever we can get them to go," said Mersereau.

“We have some group homes, we have some in hospital stay that are not forensically-committed, that are not committed by the court,” said Baker.

Construction is scheduled for completion in September of next year, and the building is slated to be ready for patients in January 2021.

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