Healing process


POSTED: Monday, June 15, 2009




        » Location: 45-710 Keaahala Road, Kaneohe

» Operated by: State Department of Health


» Capacity: 168 patients




Hawaii State Hospital for the mentally ill in Kaneohe has transformed “;from a snake pit to a therapeutic institution with good stuff happening,”; says a long-serving member of the committee formed to safeguard patients' rights.

The Rev. Mike Young has participated in the change as a member of the hospital's Patient Protection Committee since 1996, when the hospital operated under federal court jurisdiction. It was released from federal oversight in December 2004, but the hospital administration chose to keep the committee intact.

“;I'm quite sure if the hospital had not been under a consent decree from the court, most of the changes we have seen would not have happened,”; the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu minister said in an interview. “;A good many of the line staff ran the place as if it was their own little bailiwick, and if another staff member observed, or a patient complained of, abusive or neglectful behavior, they would be threatened.”;

A staff member who filed a complaint or supported a patient would “;go out and find all four tires slashed,”; Young said, noting “;a couple cases where administrators at the hospital knew inappropriate stuff was going on but because nobody filed a formal complaint, nobody did anything about it. The degree to which, in some cases, they felt threatened was real.”;

Young described an incident where a lower level staff member, summoned by a superior, laid a big knife on the desk and said, “;What do you want to talk to me about?”;

Another staff member was found to be “;loading ammunition on the job,”; he said.

The Patient Protection Committee was formed under a state-U.S. Justice Department consent decree after the department sued the state in 1991 alleging unconstitutional hospital conditions.

Young, the longest-serving committee member appointed by the department, recently resigned because he and his wife are leaving Hawaii after 14 years to seek a “;new and different adventure.”;

Bill Elliott, the hospital's associate administrator, praised Young's contribution. “;We appreciate the things the reverend brought to the table,”; he said. “;Him being outside the hospital and looking in brought some valuable information.”;

Elliott said the committee's civilian members, all volunteers, provide “;an impartial, independent, unbiased look at the events that take place in the hospital,”; adding, “;Certainly we are much improved over what we were when I came to the hospital in 1995. We continue to work really, really hard to make things as good as they can be for the patients, for the staff and public safety for the community.”;

When Paul Guggenheim became hospital administrator in 2001, Young said, he instituted a strict system to deal with misbehavior by the staff, regardless of union protection.

“;It laid the foundation for a significant turnaround in staff morale. ... To their great credit, there is overwhelmingly now top-notch behavior in staff from top to bottom.”;

Mark Fridovich, who succeeded Guggenheim in 2006, chose to keep the Patient Protection Committee because of its valuable input, Young said. “;We not only decided whether a particular incident was a case of patient abuse and neglect, but who was responsible.”;

Escapes have decreased with recognition that patients who ran away often were scared or worried about cases coming up in court, he said.

Now the staff carefully tracks who is due for a court hearing, as well as other things that need “;'special handling,”; he said.

“;It was a culture change that had to happen,”; Young said. “;It was essentially a throw-away place for people who wouldn't fit in the system any place else. It's no longer that way. It's a place for the seriously mentally ill.”;