Thursday, April 1, 1999

Proposed closing
of mental hospital

Bullet The issue: The state health director wants to close Hawaii State Hospital and move its patients to community-based facilities.
Bullet Our view: The state should give careful study to the problems before going ahead with this proposal.

THE proposal to close the Hawaii State Hospital for the mentally ill needs careful study and should not be accepted hastily. The Legislature is being asked to come up with $16 million to implement the Health Department's plan, which would entail moving the hospital's 168 patients to community facilities and private institutions. This would be in addition to the $31 million now spent each year on the Kaneohe institution, but the change would supposedly produce significant savings for the state.

This is a relatively new hospital. The state spent $37.5 million to replace the previous facility, which was in dreadful shape and was cited by the federal Department of Justice for unsafe living conditions.

The new hospital was dedicated in December 1991 and is only seven years old. It contained a 28-bed acute-care assessment and stabilization unit; a 36-bed extended-care unit for the chronically mentally ill; two modular 20-bed and 24-bed hospital units; four residential homes for up to 24 patients; a gymnasium, dining room, snack shop, hair salon, library, auditorium and amphitheater.

However, the physical improvements at the State Hospital did not solve all the problems. The Justice Department has continued to find deficiencies in the quality of care. Justice attorneys cite problems in coordination and follow-through of patient treatment programs. Federal District Judge David Ezra recently imposed a deadline of Dec. 20 for the state to make required improvements.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson contends that no amount of money or training will correct these problems, so he wants to close the facility and turn the patients over to community programs.

Anderson contends that the plan is necessary to meet the terms of the agreement between the state and the Justice Department. This would be a radical change in policy and should be thought through carefully before any action is taken.

Although the problems at the State Hospital are serious, it is difficult to believe that they cannot be solved with a determined effort and adequate resources.

Halfway houses and other community-based programs are useful and perhaps can be utilized for more patients than at present.

However, there is probably still a role for the State Hospital in treating patients who are unprepared to be released into community programs.

If the state is incapable of dealing successfully with treatment problems, perhaps it should turn the facility over to a private group that can do the job.

About 80 percent of the State Hospital's patients are criminals committed by the courts. Admittedly, these patients are difficult to handle, and there has been both staff abuse of patients and patient abuse of staff. How many of these difficult people can be accommodated in appropriate community programs is a critical question.

A movement to "deinstitutionalize" the mentally ill in the 1960s resulted in a vast increase in the homeless problem. The state should take pains to ensure that something similar does not result from the current proposal.


Computer bug

Bullet The issue: Computer viruses create havoc in today's age of technology.
Bullet Our view: Technology used to gather information about computer users could be used to identify creators and spreaders of viruses.

AN identifying serial number quietly attached to computer software may have led to the tracking down of the creator of a vexing worldwide computer virus. The roster of software users that Microsoft was attempting to compile may have an unintended redeeming capability. Kudos should go not to Microsoft but to a software company president who fingered the hacker suspected of creating the virus.

Computer viruses are a menace that too often create havoc in cyberspace, zapping hard drives or clogging e-mail delivery systems. One of the fastest spreading virus, given the tag "Melissa," is an e-mail infection that dug into the receiving computer's address book and sent the same e-mail to the first 50 names it found.

Richard Smith, president of Phar Lap Software in Cambridge, Mass., says he decided to "poke around" and found clues to the identity of the programmer or programmers who launched the virus. Smith had found a month ago that Microsoft placed a secret serial number, essentially a digital fingerprint, on every document file in the popular Microsoft Office package of software applications. After the Melissa infection became known, Smith found that the same digital fingerprint would be used to track down the virus.

Smith believes Melissa's creator is a teen-age boy who has a record of writing computer viruses and who uses the computer moniker "VicodinES," pilfered from the manufacturer of a narcotic painkiller. Smith has turned his information over to the FBI for further investigation.

Privacy advocates were understandably outraged when Smith revealed Microsoft's surreptitious assembling of software users into a data base. If the same technology can be harnessed to track down creators of viruses while protecting the privacy of cybertravelers, the computer world can benefit.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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