Rise in attacks by state hospital patients prompts call for change

Local News

More trouble has surfaced for the embattled Hawaii State Hospital.

A new report shows there’s been an increase in patients attacking workers.

Statistics provided by Hawaii State Hospital show there were 76 assaults in fiscal year 2016. That nearly doubled the following year to 145.Click here to read the full report.

A key lawmaker wants to change the law which, he says, could prevent more assaults.

KHON2 spoke with Rep. John Mizuno who is introducing a bill that will make it a felony to assault healthcare workers.

Even though most of the patients cannot be sent to prison, he says a stricter law can still help.

The number of patient assault cases against staff members had been going down steadily in recent years, but the latest report filed by Hawaii State Hospital to state lawmakers says that the past year had the second highest number of assaults in the past five years.

Currently, it’s a misdemeanor to assault healthcare workers. Mizuno would like to change that law in the same way it has been changed to assaulting police officers, Emergency Medical Services workers, and teachers.

“It applies to all medical workers, so if you’re at the state hospital and someone assaults the staff, they could be facing assault in the second-degree class C felony,” Mizuno explained.

But many of the patients are not sent to prison because of their mental state. Mizuno says it would be a deterrent, because the state would now have to take these cases more seriously.

“The state doesn’t want to pay a ton of liability, a million dollar lawsuit here or there. You can bet the attorney general’s office and (Department of) Public Safety will be working with the state hospital to ensure the safety of our valued employees, our nurses and healthcare workers at the state hospital,” Mizuno said.

Attorney Michael Green is representing some 300 state hospital workers who have filed a class action lawsuit against the state. He says stricter laws will not help because patients can’t be sent to prison in the first place.

“Their defense was they don’t know the difference between right and wrong, so if you’re gonna tell them it’s a felony, the reason most of them are there is because they can’t appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct. You’re not scaring them with a felony,” Green argued.

“Prison will never be an option?” KHON2 asked.

“Prison’s not an option for people that have not been found guilty of a crime, and they’re not found guilty because many of them have been found not guilty by reason of insanity,” Green replied.

KHON2 asked the state Department of Health for an on-camera interview, but a spokeswoman says the director does not want to comment until she meets with state lawmakers at a hearing scheduled for next week.

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