Sunday, June 17, 2001

State hospital close to
filling Kaneohe post

By Helen Altonn

State health officials are finalizing negotiations with a mainland candidate to administer the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe.

Health Director Bruce Anderson said interviews were conducted last month and "10 of us selected a candidate for the position."

He said Barbara Peterson, the current administrator, did not ask that her contract be renewed.

She came here last November from Ohio on a one-year contract.

She is on leave now attending to family matters on the mainland, but will return in two or three weeks, Anderson said. "We will work with her on transition to the new administrator at the hospital."

Her potential successor is "very well qualified," with 20 years' experience running private mental health facilities on the mainland, Anderson said.

Peterson and her policies have been controversial since moving all the staff and patients from the old Guensberg Building into four newer units on the lower campus.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association filed a grievance alleging the units were "dangerously overcrowded, unsafe and not a therapeutic milieu."

Anderson said, however, that Peterson has made some significant changes that have resulted in better treatment of patients.

"She's a no-nonsense administrator who has led the hospital through some very difficult times," he said.

"Perhaps the largest challenge she's had to date has been closure of the Guensberg Building for health and safety reasons."

Anderson disagrees with critics that patient units are overcrowded, pointing out that the national hospital accreditation commission inspected the hospital after the move and said in a report the past week that it has reaccredited the hospital.

Anderson said this demonstrates "that we are continuing to provide high quality services in an appropriate manner."

The mental hospital, with about 160 patients, has been operated under federal court jurisdiction since the state settled a Department of Justice lawsuit with a consent decree 10 years ago.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra last month appointed U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang to act as special master and help resolve problems in the case.

Chang has met with the staff and laid out a preliminary plan to identify remaining issues at the hospital and develop a strategy to address them, Anderson said.

"Issues that remain, in my view, center around clinical treatment planning for patients," added Anderson, stressing that the goal is to eventually discharge patients who don't need to be in the hospital.

Historically, he said, patients have remained at the hospital longer than necessary, given their condition.

He said tremendous progress has been made in developing community resources and a $20 million legislative appropriation over the next two years will spur major improvements, particularly in providing support for the mentally ill in the community.

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