EXCLUSIVE: State Hospital faces class-action lawsuit, administrator retiring

Published: Jun. 12, 2014 at 3:31 AM HST
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KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A class-action lawsuit representing hundreds of State Hospital employees will be filed in the next several weeks, as the acting head of the troubled hospital announced he plans to retire after two decades there.

The class-action lawsuit will be filed on behalf of hundreds of front-line staff at the State Hospital, who work directly with the mentally ill.

Attorney Michael Green is representing them.

"Every week, there's somebody getting punched or kicked or their heads are getting slapped into the walls," Green said "This is really bad. It's like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

The lawsuit will seek financial damages from the state and changes in procedures, training and equipment for employees who are routinely getting attacked by the mentally ill patients at the hospital.

"I've got people in here that will never work again because of brain injuries.  People that are getting more medication than the patients ever got in there," Green said. "The intention now is to represent all of them and hopefully make a change.  And the state's self- insured.  The money can be used for much better things than lawsuits."

Some state hospital employees spend weeks, months and even longer on workers compensation because of on-the-job injuries.

"The people I spoke to are all on worker's comp. And there must be another 25 percent who don't go out because they're told 'If you go out, you ain't coming back,'" Green said.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, the Kaneohe private physician who's treated more than six state hospital employees for on-the-job attacks in the last year, including four employees who first spoke to Hawaii News Now in November.

Miscovich said he hoped the lawsuit will force the state to screen all injured employees for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"When you're in a work environment where you're assaulted or you may have the potential to get assaulted every time you go to work, it has the potential to wear on your psychologically.  It affects their home life, it affects their ability to deal with their families," Miscovich said.

Miscovich said the state should also test state hospital employees who've been struck in the head for traumatic brain injuries.

"This may manifest its self as early as the 30s, 40s, 50s in these people and they may not be aware that it's happening to them after being hit in the head numerous times," Miscovich said.

Meanwhile, Bill Elliott, who has been acting administrator at the hospital since March 2013, announced he will retire from the hospital after 20 years on Aug. 1.

Elliott had been the associate administrator – in charge of non-clinical operations such as personnel, budgets and facilities – for 19 years before being temporarily assigned to the top job.

Elliott, who has an undergraduate degree in business administration, does not hold the minimum educational qualifications to head the hospital.  The state requires the administrator to be a medical doctor or have a master's degree in nursing, social work or related fields.

In a memo sent to hospital staff, Elliott said "it is time for me to proceed with the next phase of my life which will be to provide care for my wife as she is in need of my presence at home."

In the memo, Elliott thanked his fellow employees for "… allowing me to have been involved with such a wonderful, dedicated, and professional group of people. I have enjoyed the challenges, disappointments and successes of our efforts…"

State Sen. Clayton Hee, who is co-chairing a special committee's investigation into the troubled hospital, said, "Mr. Elliott's a very dedicated employee, very loyal to the facility.  And having said that, I believe the facility needs an upgrade and needs perhaps a new rhythm and new energy."

Elliott did not return an email sent to him late Tuesday afternoon, before the Kamehameha Day state holiday on Wednesday.

Elliott will retire about three weeks after a new administrator, William May, takes over at the hospital.  May currently works as superintendent of the Colorado Mental Health Institute.

Last November, a Hawaii News Now investigation first revealed that State Hospital employees were suffering an average of one assault every three days.  Employees came forward to complain about assaults, mismanagement, nepotism and a lack of training and short staffing at the facility.

The State Senate then convened a special investigation, subpoenaing documents and witnesses and held numerous hearings so far this year.

State Health Department officials said they are working to improve problems at the facility, including upgrading training.

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