State hospital administration speaks out about its challenges

There were three assaults in the last week at Hawaii State Hospital and this is not the first time the facility or its staff has come under fire.

KHON2 was told by hospital officials that the number of assaults on workers has gone down in the last year, but recent incidents still have some people asking questions.

There’s also a class action lawsuit involving the hospital and hundreds of former employees, all because of safety issues.

So is there a problem with assaults at the state hospital?

“It’s a relative question, relative to our colleagues throughout the western part of the United States we compare favorably,” said Hawaii State Hospital administrator William May. “Out of 21 hospitals, there were only three that had less patient-to-staff assaults or injuries.”

KHON2 asked the same question to state Sen. Josh Green, who is on the Senate committee looking into the issues.

“Oh absolutely,” he said. “Look, we had a whole Senate investigation on the matter. There is no question that it’s an issue and a serious one.”

“There has not been an assault that has resulted in a staff member losing a day of work,” said May.

There have been 37 assaults in the last quarter. Hospital officials said that assaults are defined broadly and considered any act of aggression towards a staff member.

Another issue is overcrowding. The current facility was meant to house 168 patients. That number is now more than 200 patients.

“At the end of the day, it’s more difficult to provide that safe environment given the buildings we have to do so right now,” said May.

There are plans for a new facility, but it could be eight years before anything is done, and even longer, 12 to 13 years, for the other buildings they plan to build.

“Anyone who can do anything to shorten the time frame of the completion of the first of three buildings, please do it,” said May. “This is a state of Hawaii issue. It is beyond our control and we need everyone’s help and eight years is simply not good enough.”

The issue halting current construction of a new forensic facility is funding, but Sen. Green says that could change soon.

“Next year, I will make a request to the legislature and to the governor to begin the funding process of a new state hospital,” he said.

Hospital officials told KHON2 that they recently met with the Honolulu Police Department and will now handle each assault that results in bodily injury as a felony.

“We asked them to handle each one as a felony,” said May, “so I would expect to see more felony assault two (second-degree) bookings not charges, but bookings from the state hospital.”

As far as patients who are arrested, sometimes patients are sent back to corrections because of the charge. If they are returned to the hospital, they are evaluated and may be sent to a different area with more supervision.

Hospital officials also plan to implement a new system this week to reach out to patients more often and identify problems before they occur.

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