Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Judge’s ultimatum
on State Hospital

Bullet The issue: A federal judge has given the state until June to comply with an ultimatum on improving conditions at the Hawaii State Hospital.
Bullet Our view: The Legislature has a responsibility to provide the funds needed for this purpose.

WITH regard to Hawaii State Hospital, federal District Judge David Ezra's patience has just about been exhausted. Ezra has given the state until June to comply with an agreement governing improvements at the mental hospital or face a federal court takeover. That would mean appointment of a master who would have the authority to seize state assets needed to implement changes.

The judge's ultimatum comes after years of demands for reforms and responses that have fallen short.

Yet the state's record is not an unmitigated disaster. The state spent $37 million to build the current hospital only eight years ago, replacing an antiquated, wholly inadequate facility that had been cited by the federal Department of Justice as unsafe.

After years of effort, the hospital recently received a full three-year accreditation by the national Joint Commission for Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. Anita Swanson, special assistant to state Health Director Bruce Anderson, said "tremendous progress" has been made.

Last April Anderson proposed closing the hospital and moving its patients to community-based facilities, contending that no amount of money or training would correct problems of coordination and follow-through of treatment programs.

Fortunately, the Legislature did not accept that drastic recommendation. Instead, it approved a plan to convert the hospital gradually to a rehabilitation facility, with the number of beds being reduced from 168 to 108. Patients needing acute mental or physical care are being transferred to private hospitals. Community-based mental health programs are being expanded.

Even that modified plan has its critics. Andrew J. Weaver, a clinical psychologist at the hospital, warned in an article in the Star-Bulletin last Saturday that reducing the number of beds would mean more homeless persons, more prison inmates and more violence on the streets. Weaver's concerns deserve attention.

While the federal government acknowledges that progress has been made, it isn't enough. The Justice Department criticized treatment, discharge plans, rehabilitation programs, nurse interventions and failure to meet nursing ratios.

Judge Ezra placed the onus on the Legislature to provide the necessary funding. "We owe it to the people of Hawaii ... to our sense of humanity and to the law to do what is right," he said.

The nation has learned from sad experience that releasing mentally ill persons into the community without adequate and effective community-based programs in place is a formula for disaster. Yet confinement in institutions is not appropriate for many patients.

The state must end years of neglect and provide sufficient funding for community programs, as well as for the patients who will remain in the State Hospital and other institutions.

A federal takeover would signify a humiliating failure of the state government to meet its responsibilities.


Police promotions

Bullet The issue: A Hawaii County jury has concluded that police leaders rigged tests for promotions within the department for a 10-year period.
Bullet Our view: The argument that fairness in making promotions is not legally required is unacceptable.

THE examination process for promotion within the Big Island police department had all the appearances of a merit-based system, but a jury has concluded it was rigged.

Rejecting the argument that police chiefs somehow were legally entitled to rig the process to promote their favorites, the Circuit Court panel awarded $4.6 million to 19 Hawaii County police officers who were passed over. The acknowledged behavior by high-ranking police officials strains the public trust in their honesty and fairness and by extension in the whole system of law enforcement.

According to trial testimony, favoritism tainted the promotion system for a decade, beginning in the mid-1980s. Those involved were retired Deputy Chief Francis DeMorales, former Chief Guy A. Paul and current Chief Wayne Carvalho when he was deputy chief.

Five finalists for any promotion were based on written examinations. Paul regularly told Carvalho which finalist he favored for promotion. Carvalho acknowledged passing the information to DeMorales, who then gave oral test questions and answers to Paul's favorite.

Carvalho sees no reason to resign from his job because of the verdict, saying he looks forward to an appeal. According to David Minkin, the attorney for Hawaii County, the appeal will be based not on any denial that the deception occurred but on the contention that it was legal.

Minkin says the county is under no constitutional requirement that promotions be fair. Judge Riki May ruled that there is such a constitutional right.

Defense attorneys argued that the oral exams didn't matter because Chief Paul had the right to pick anyone from the list of finalists.

Minkin plans to challenge the ruling before the state Supreme Court.

Regardless of whether fairness is constitutionally guaranteed, it should be an expectation of any civil servant seeking a promotion. Conducting examinations purportedly to decide whom to promote and then rigging the tests to conceal the favoritism on which the promotions are based makes a mockery of the entire process.

The system that left numerous police officers the victims of a sham by their superiors is morally indefensible. Carvalho has failed to provide an adequate explanation for his role in this deplorable practice.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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