State to issue public alerts for Hawaii State Hospital escapees

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Windward Oahu residents have been frustrated over escapes at Hawaii State Hospital — escapes the state often didn’t tell the public about unless we heard about it.

For years, we’ve pressed the state to find out why, and if it could use an alert system to notify more people and get the message out faster.

In the past, we’ve been told doing that would violate patient privacy laws, but after our report earlier this year about a patient walking out of an open gate, the state hospital has agreed to do it.

The improved alert system started just this week. The agencies involved say the idea is to send out just enough information, without violating patient privacy laws, in the interest of public safety.

When Richard Leibman escaped from Hawaii State Hospital in January, the public wasn’t notified until two days later.

Leibman was considered dangerous and was on the run for four days. Back then, we pressed the state hospital on getting the word out faster.

“Again, we will look at every option. The CrimeStoppers could be an option, maybe we just let them know right away,” said Hawaii State Hospital administrator William May.

So now, the state tells us that it has coordinated with the Honolulu Police Department and the Department of Public Safety to get alerts out. HPD’s CrimeStoppers gets plenty of tips when they send out a bulletin to help catch a criminal.

“Once HPD is called and it’s assessed that it’s an immediate danger or it’s necessary for us to have it out we could get it out within the hour,” said Sgt. Kim Buffett of Honolulu CrimeStoppers.

The Department of Public Safety sends out Nixle alerts by text or email when inmates escape from prison. A spokeswoman tells us when a patient goes missing, the alert will include the name, where he or she was last seen, and a photograph.

Whether it’s CrimeStoppers or a Nixle alert, no information will be revealed that could break patient privacy laws.

“All we need is the description, height, weight, basic information that we’re going to put out to the public, but we don’t have to disclose any medical information nor do we ask for any information,” Sgt. Buffett said.

The state hospital says this will be done for escapes by court-ordered patients. Out of 201 patients, nearly all of them are court-ordered.

“The Nixle alert is a good way for the hospital to keep the public informed as to what’s happening,” said Bill Sager of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board.

The neighborhood board likes the idea, and so do students from Windward Community College, which is next to the state hospital.

“Because we don’t know what they’re capable of, something wrong can happen. We don’t know if they’re part of the school or not, so I’m thinking it’s a good idea,” said student Shasidy Kalilikane.

Click here to sign up for Nixle alerts (for escapee alerts, choose “Hawaii Department of Public Safety” and “Honolulu Police Department”).

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