State mental health official resigns
Dr. Thomas Hester is credited with improving the state's nationwide rankings
Dr. Thomas Hester, who led Hawaii's mental health system through a turbulent period of change under federal oversight, has resigned as chief of the state Adult Mental Health Division, effective this Thursday.
Hester joined the state Department of Health in 2001 as medical-clinical director and became division chief in 2002.
He and his wife are moving to Virginia for family reasons, said state Health Director Chiyome Fukino. "We are going to miss him," she said. "He is such a wonderful asset. He is very competent, a very skilled clinician. He worked so hard to improve the system."
Leaders of mental health agencies are dismayed that Hester is leaving, saying the mental health system rose under his leadership from last place in state rankings to one of the best in the nation.
"This is devastating to some of us because he's been so accessible and balanced to consumers," said Bud Bowles, United Self-Help director. "This puts us back two or three notches, I think."
Hester once said people told him when he started at DOH that the only way they could get mental health services was to be arrested and ordered by the court to Hawaii State Hospital. Then, they told him, they could get community services when discharged.
He changed that, making it easy for people needing help to get into the system, Bowles said. An ACCESS line was established to call for services in a crisis, and a "warm line" was set up for people to call just to talk to someone.
The mental health system was under federal court oversight when Hester took over the division. The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state in 1991 alleging unconstitutional conditions.
The Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe was released from court oversight in December 2004, and oversight for the overall system ended Nov. 30, 2006.
Marion Poirier, Hawaii executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Hester "is going to be sorely missed," adding, "We're just thrilled with the work that's been accomplished in the Adult Mental Health Division."