Senators grill state health officials on assaults, overtime at mental hospital

Senators grill state health officials on assaults, overtime at mental hospital
Published: Mar. 27, 2014 at 10:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Testimony before a Senate special investigative committee looking into problems at the Hawaii State Hospital Thursday raised questions about whether the deputy who oversees the facility knew the extent of attacks on staff there.

For the first time in six years, senators have used their subpoena powers, compelling documents and testimony to investigate safety, overtime and favoritism at the state's only public mental hospital. The Senate began its probe after Hawaii News Now first interviewed three hospital employees about serious injuries they suffered that kept them out of work for months.

Deputy Health Director for Behavioral Health Lynn Fallin alarmed senators when she admitted that she was notified of just four out of about 20 serious assaults on staff at the hospital in the last two and a half years.

"If you only heard of four of the, say, 20, wouldn't that leave you under-informed about the severity of the conditions at the State Hospital?" asked State Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room physician who is co-chairing the investigative committee.

Fallin responded: "I believe that that's an area we do need to strengthen in terms of clarifying what level of assaults, serious assaults, need to be reported."

When questioned by senators, Fallin could not offer a consistent definition of what the department considers a serious assault on a staffer, such as whether it required an emergency room visit or a doctor's treatment.

"I think what we're going to find out is how much the administration doesn't know what's going on," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, co-chair of the investigative committee. "If we don't find that out, then what we will find out is that the administration is aware and nothing's being done."

Senators are also concerned about the large amount of overtime -- $2 million a year or 6 percent of its salary budget -- used to cover vacancies at the hospital.

Some employees have been paid 1,000 hours or more of overtime in a year, senators said.

Green asked, "Is that a healthy approach to staffing?"

"It is not a healthy approach, " Fallin answered. "We identified that there were some individuals who were using overtime equivalent to two full-time jobs.  That is not good practice."

Linda Rosen, who became health director about one month ago, told senators, "It's not ideal by any means and I do have concerns that I would prefer that there be less overtime so we can be sure that people aren't experiencing fatigue."

"Overtime is necessary but the real underlying solution is to have your positions filled, because you have to take care of the business at hand," Rosen said.

The state is trying to limit overtime hours for hospital workers at 350 hours a year or about seven hours a week, calling that a "wellness cap."

Fallin likened the overtime limit of 350 hours to many people in Hawaii who have second jobs, but that concerned Green, who also chairs the Senate health committee.

"Those individuals we don't task with taking care of people that have been sent over from the prison who have a record of extreme violence against members of society," Green said.

The committee's investigation continues April 9, when Adult Mental Health Division Administrator Mark Fridovich, the hospital's former administrator as well as Acting Hawaii State Hospital Administrator William Elliot are scheduled to testify.

The state Health Department delivered boxes of documents to the Senate Thursday, including complaints, accreditation reports, training reports, policies and procedures about staffing and overtime as well as lists of employees who may be related to each other.

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