HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A special State Senate committee convened to investigate problems at the Hawaii State Hospital Wednesday released a lengthy report about its findings and recommendations to improve the troubled facility.
The 88-page report calls the state's only mental hospital outdated and overcrowded. It also said the facility suffers from bad management, a lack of training and chronic overtime and sick leave abuse, leading to assaults by mental patients against the staff.
A Hawaii News Now investigation last November first revealed that about one employee was assaulted by a patient there every three days in 2013.
"There are concrete steps being taken to address what everybody admits is a workplace-violent facility that needs a change in culture," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, who co-chaired the Senate Special Investigative Committee with State Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room physician who also chairs the Senate Health Committee.
The report recommended changes to state policy, including encouraging the facility to send its most violent patients to other special units out of the state. The state is paying for two patients who've repeatedly assaulted employees and fellow patients to stay at a special facility on the mainland.
"Moving the most violent out of the state of Hawaii as is presently done in South Carolina," Hee said. "That will also dramatically impact assaults, not only on workers, but also on patients."
The state hospital was built for 168 patients. It's overcrowded with 200 on campus today and 40 others who live at private mental facility Kahi Mohala.
Lynn Fallin, the deputy Health director of behavioral health, said the hospital needs to construct new buildings, which could take ten years.
"We need a new state-of-the-art facility that can better support the patient care," Fallin said.
Fallin said the State Health Department agrees with many recommendations in the report.
"I think many of the recommendations we hope will result in better control of the census, the number of people that get sent to Hawaii State Hospital," Fallin said.
Hee said the report also calls on lawmakers to change the law after a State Supreme Court decision years ago that allows the most senior supervisors and employees to choose to work holidays for large amounts of holiday pay, which does not allow managers to schedule less-senior and cheaper employees on those holidays.
"It ends up with the taxpayers paying ten times the amount that otherwise would be paid to an agency worker as opposed to the highest supervisor," Hee said. "Management has to have priority, otherwise taxpayers keep taking it on the chin."
"We have to see if we can curb overtime abuses and use of sick leave," Hee added.
Fallin agreed that managers need flexibility to schedule employees when they want to.
"We are not the only state department that runs a 24-7 program. The state struggles operating 24-7 programs and often those are the facilities and the programs that have to be the most responsive to the public and turn on a dime," said Fallin.
Josh Akeo, a State Hospital nurse who was assaulted at the hospital and has been out of work in the year since, welcomed the report.
"I hope the State Hospital takes the recommendations to heart and tries to change the culture up there. The status quo there is substandard," Akeo said.
Psychiatric technician Kalford Keanu, another veteran State Hospital employee who was also injured in a patient assault, joined Akeo at the State Senate committee meeting where the final report into the hospital problems was approved.
"A lot of problems there were ignored for a long time and now it seems they are getting addressed," Keanu said. "I hope they take these recommendations seriously and make improvements."
Senators held 10 hearings on problems at the facility since January delving into a wide range of topics, including allegations of nepotism and favoritism at the hospital.