Friday, April 9, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Lawmakers amend
State Hospital plan

By Mike Yuen


The Cayetano administration's plan to close the State Hospital in Kaneohe and privatize mental health services is advancing to a floor vote by the House, but only after lawmakers made a key change.

In approving the plan yesterday, the House Finance Committee rewrote the measure so that there would be legislative oversight on transitioning behavioral health care from the state to the private sector.

That amendment was added, said House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo) because legislators are highly skeptical of administration claims that the move would save the state money, avoid layoffs and, most importantly, ensure that treatment for the nearly 170 patients at the hospital would not be diminished.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is pushing the privatization proposal to avoid having U.S. District Judge David Ezra appoint a special master to oversee the hospital and state mental health services, which the Justice Department in 1989 determined was subpar and involved patient mistreatment.

Cayetano doesn't want Hawaii, which has been mired in a budget crisis during his tenure, to end up like Puerto Rico, which was forced by a special master to spend $300 million to improve its mental health services.

Meanwhile, before the House amended the administration plan, state health officials disclosed that the administration's proposal has been revised. Instead of having only a dozen or so of the most dangerous patients remain at the hospital while the rest were transferred to halfway houses and outpatient treatment programs, an 80-bed secure psychiatric rehabilitation facility would be maintained on the hospital grounds, said state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

That facility would be for patients whom judges ordered to be confined to the hospital because of criminal violations.

Takamine said his panel and House leadership is demanding legislative oversight because, "We have to believe that (the administration's) plan addresses the critical issues - patient care and what happens to the employees."

Anita Swanson, Anderson's special assistant for behavioral health, said Justice Department officials support the administration's outpatient treatment plan and they "appreciate" the state's effort at "cost effectiveness." The proposal, she added, "meets their criteria for appropriate care."

Before administration officials announced the change that would keep 80 patients at the State Hospital, they said the transition plan would cost the state about $16 million in each of the next two fiscal years on top of the $30 million annual budget for the hospital.

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