State: Diamond Head rampage exposed major gaps in mental health system

Violent tragedy at Diamond Head exposed major gaps in Hawaii's mental healthcare system

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After news of the killings during Sunday’s tragedy at Diamond Head broke, and reports that the alleged murderer was mentally ill began to surface, the state Department of Health looked into whether they’d ever had contact with him.

“That’s one of the first things we checked into. As far as we can tell, he had never been referred to us,” said Edward Mersereau, Deputy Director, Behavioral Health Administration.

Currently, Hawaii has no stabilization beds for crisis patients showing symptoms not severe enough for the emergency room, but too severe for existing outpatient facilities like the state's clubhouse program.

“One of the problems we have now is even if someone is involuntarily committed, we don’t have the services in place for individuals to stabilize them. If they are in crisis, if they have substance problems, there is simply no good place for them to go now,” said Bruce Anderson, the director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

The health department wants to create 200 stabilization beds across the state. It says Wahiawa General and Maluhia Hospital have empty beds, and there’s a pilot program in Leahi Hospital with five patients.

"The main effort that we need to focus on is filling those few pukas that are left as well as linking all of the services together," said Mersereau.

Last year, lawmakers denied $10 million in funding for Wahiawa General to create 40 stabilization beds, because they wanted the project to go out for bid. Now, the health department hopes to have that award finalized by the end of the month.

"It's not just about beds. It's about how we manage the flow of patients through the system," said Mersereau.

There are bills being considered at the legislature to allow the use of mental health and substance abuse monies to re-purpose hospital beds for patients with mental illness.

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