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Tuesday, October 17, 2000

State policy neglects
needs of mentally ill

Bullet The issue: The state Health Department plans to downsize Hawaii State Hospital.
Bullet Our view: The plan could result in failure to meet the needs of the severely mentally ill.

THE state Health Department's efforts to downsize the Hawaii State Hospital could have damaging effects on Hawaii's severely mentally ill. The problem was described in detail in an article in the Star-Bulletin's Insight section Saturday written by Andrew J. Weaver and Barbara Grace Ripple. Weaver is a United Methodist minister and clinical psychologist who worked for six years as a staff psychologist at Hawaii State Hospital (HSH). Ripple is the Hawaii district superintendent of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The article noted that a review of mental health services in Hawaii commissioned by the Legislature concluded that the severely mentally ill "were being grossly underserved by the Health Department and that a reduction in the number of beds at HSH would significantly compound the problems now facing the severely mentally ill."

It accused the Health Department of "abdicating its responsibility" to care for these people, "in much the same way that Hawaii abandoned victims of Hansen's Disease in the 19th century to Kalaupapa." The report confirmed concerns expressed by the Star-Bulletin at the time Health Director Bruce Anderson disclosed the department's plans for the institution early this year.

The article warned that Hawaii will have among the lowest ratios of state mental hospital beds to population of any state in the country if the number of beds at HSH is reduced to the Health Department's projected number of 108. On average nationwide there are 22 state mental hospital beds per 100,000 people. Hawaii needs 264 beds to be at the national average.

Moreover, Weaver and Ripple warned, "Hawaii is rapidly becoming the only state in the Union in which a person will need to commit a crime in order to receive treatment at HSH." This conclusion is based on a statement by the hospital superintendent that 85-90 percent of the patients at HSH are there under court orders and that when the 108-bed number is reached the intent is to have virtually no non-court-ordered patients.

What is the result of this downsizing? Evidently a large increase in the number of mentally ill persons who are homeless. The article noted that the Institute for Human Services, an agency serving the homeless, stated that about 60 percent of the persons seen at the institute suffer from severe mental illness. This figure is twice the national average.

In addition, investigators were told there are more than 200 severely mentally ill persons in jails and prisons in the state and that at least half of the mentally ill misdemeanants at Oahu Community Correctional Center should have been sent to a hospital.

Four decades ago many institutions for the mentally ill across the country were closed or reduced in size in the belief that the patients would be better off in community settings.

Unfortunately the efforts to provide such settings fell short of the need, and thousands were left to wander the streets helplessly, thereby contributing greatly to the problem of homelessness. In some cases people who could not cope in community settings and required hospitalization were also released.

It appears that the state Health Department has learned little from that experience. Hawaii State Hospital, a relatively new facility that is a vast improvement over the old institution, should be put to full use to care for the severely mentally ill.

bank failure

Bullet The issue: The Bank of Honolulu has been closed by the state banking commissioner and taken over by the Bank of the Orient.
Bullet Our view: The failure does not appear to be a sign of weakness in other local financial institutions.

FAILURE of the financially strapped Bank of Honolulu should not be taken as a symptom of wider troubles in Hawaii's banking community. The small local institution has become the Hawaii arm of the Bank of the Orient, a California-state chartered bank with roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lynn Wakatsuki, the state banking commissioner, called the closing "a very unfortunate and isolated case which does not reflect on the health of other financial institutions."

Bank of Honolulu's former chairman, Sukamto Sia, filed for bankruptcy nearly two years ago and a bankruptcy trustee assumed control of the bank and its assets. Sia's bankruptcy and his other troubles -- he is currently awaiting trial on charges of writing bad checks for gambling debts -- may have been a factor in the bank's failure.

Deposits up to $100,000 are fully insured, but depositors with more than $100,000 in their accounts may receive only 65 cents on the dollar for amounts in excess of $100,000.

The bank, with about $66.9 million in assets, was closed by the state banking commissioner and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was named receiver. In 1998 the FDIC issued a cease-and-desist order, saying the bank had insufficient capital, showing that its problems began years ago.

The Bank of the Orient is the first mainland bank to enter the Hawaii market since Bank of America arrived in 1992; it pulled out five years later. Bank of the Orient says it is committed to serving diverse communities with a multilingual staff. It has six locations in the Bay Area and has a branch in Xiamen, China.

With the recent improvement in Hawaii's economy, other banks should be able to strengthen their positions.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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