Hawaii’s new state-of-the-art psychiatric facility complete, officials admit it’s not 100% foolproof

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Construction on the new Hawaii State Hospital patient facility in Kaneohe is complete.

It boasts the latest security options that are designed to house high-risk patients while providing a healing environment.

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The state-of-the-art facility is a far cry from the older facility built in the 1950s. Even with all the bells and whistles, officials say nothing is foolproof.

The new psychiatric facility can hold up to 144 patients.

The price tag is $160.5 million and it was built in under three years.

The facility boasts everything from multiple secure outdoor areas for patients with spectacular views of the Ko’olau Mountains to comfortable private rooms, a gymnasium and even an onsite courtroom.

The detail to security and patient safety is just as impressive. Staff can view down every patient corridor from a secured area and cameras are everywhere.

“There’s no blind corners here,” Eddie Mersereau, DOH behavioral health administrator said. “We know where patients are at at all times.”

There is also only one way in and out for patients.

“It allows us to manage who’s coming and going a lot better than we have been in the past,” Mersereau said.

Patient Randall Saito notoriously escaped from the older facility in November 2017. Saito had been there for more than 37 years — acquitted by reason of insanity for the 1979 murder of Sandra Yamashiro. Prosecutors say Saito used a fake ID to catch a flight to Maui before making his way to California.

Saito was arrested days later and is serving five years in prison for the escape and identity theft.

KHON: Can you guys assure that what happened with Saito will not happen again?”

“We can never make 100% assurance of that,” Mersereau said. “But this facility is one of the securest psychiatric facilities in the state, it’s actually state of the art in terms of nationwide standards. As you saw there’s a lot of management control of ingress and egress. I feel 99% sure, I won’t say 100, but I feel 99% sure.”

“At the end of the day this is a hospital, its not a jail,” Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, Health Committee chair said. “But we need to have appropriate facilities where we need to make sure people are safe and that the community feels safe. You can’t guarantee anything, but having a modern facility that’s safe and up to date is really important.”

According to Mersereau, patients will gradually be phased into the facility and it should be fully operational sometime in August 2021.

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