Cutting treatment program led to Waianae teacher's slaying


POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Asa Yamashita was my ninth-grade English teacher. A great woman, small in size but full of life, energy, love and compassion. She inspired ranks of students to enter the Searider Production media program, to continue reading and writing, to enjoy poetry and beauty; she said what was never said in a rough-cut school like Waianae, but they were things we needed to hear to grow. She started the Silent Sustained Reading program, which we all hated, but nonetheless boosted our reading and writing skills, and nurtured a declining school out of remission. She was a great person, a hero to me and many others who were touched by her life.

In July 2008, the state Department of Health decided that Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) was unneeded and ineffective, and suspended all funding for that program. This was a high-level, intensive case-management program including a medical doctor, a nurse and a host of other mental health specialists. As much as 24 hours a month could be spent on a patient, especially for those coming into communities from the state hospital. DOH directed that a much lower level of service take over for such high-needs individuals, eventually allowing only 3.5 hours of services per month. This directive was non-negotiable.

I was one of those who lost their jobs in these far-reaching reductions of services. My father, executive director of Hale Na'au Pono, Waianae's community mental health center, went before the DOH and let health officials know that if the ACT team was cut, there would be an explosion of crime, chaos and violence in the community. He warned them that Hawaii would feel the consequences of their actions. They did not listen. Hale Na'au Pono set up protest marches, recorded testimony about how desperate people were for community treatment and how HNP saved their lives, and even wrote to legislators asking for more time and more funding. They did not listen.

Tittleman Fauatea was recently released from a mental health hospital, someone who in the past would have been immediately wrapped into an intensive ACT treatment plan. He would have been watched and monitored, given therapy and counseling when needed, and put back into the hospital or jail if required. Due to the state's reduction of funding, no such program exists in community centers today. He is accused of stabbing Asa Yamashita to death last week at a public mall in Ewa.

Her life was cut short by a man desperately in need of mental health treatment.

Waianae has felt the blow of DOH's actions. I personally feel it every day. My friends feel it. We all went to the candlelight vigil Tuesday. State officials were warned that things like this would happen, and they did not listen then.

I pray that they will listen now.



La'ameaomauna'ala Burgess is a member of the Waianae High School class of 2005.