Lawmakers push for answers on State Hospital patient’s escape
Lawmakers questioned state health officials at a joint informational briefing Friday on how Hawaii State Hospital patient Randall Saito escaped and what actions are being taken to beef up security measures.
Though health officials, the state hospital administrator and state attorney general answered their inquiries, just who and how many people helped Saito and how he acquired thousands of dollars in cash, fake ID cards and two cellphones to aid in his elaborate getaway to California remain unknown due to the pending criminal and administrative investigations.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health and the House Committee on Health and Human Services held the joint hearing at the Capitol to get an update on how the State Hospital and Health Department have beefed up security.
Saito, 59, escaped Nov. 12, chartered a plane to Maui and then flew on a commercial flight to California. New court documents revealed Saito had more than $6,000 in cash, two
fake ID cards and two cellphones when authorities captured him in Stockton three days later.
He was extradited Wednesday to Hawaii for a felony escape charge. His arraignment is set for Tuesday, and he remains in custody in lieu of $500,000 bail.
If convicted of felony escape, Saito will be sentenced to five years in prison, state Attorney General Douglas Chin said. After that term Saito will be brought back to the State Hospital because he remains under its jurisdiction.
Documents also show how surveillance video footage captured Saito taping door locks within one of the buildings, grabbing a garbage bag with clothes inside from a combination-locked cabinet and walking off the grounds through a combination gate.
AT THE HEARING, Chin said the criminal investigation is ongoing and is expected to be completed in several weeks, which is typical. Individuals need to be interviewed, search warrants need to be executed and electronic evidence such as computers and cellphones needs to be gathered.
Chin didn’t reveal the names of any persons of interest or suspects.
During the briefing, state Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said, “Nobody is more anxious than I am to find out the results of their investigation. How did this happen? I think we all want to know how did this happen. I don’t know, and I’m waiting to find out, as is everybody else.
“We have every desire to be as transparent and share everything that we can. There are things that the public safety and Attorney General’s Office are able to share with the public that we are not able to share because of federal laws on patient privacy. So when you hear us say, ‘We’re not allowed to comment on that,’ we’re not trying to be evasive. We’re trying to do everything we can to get to the root of this,” she said.
Initially, officials said seven State Hospital employees were placed on unpaid leave for 30 days as part of a collective bargaining unit agreement. Officials clarified it was six employees placed on leave and one contract worker.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice
Okubo said the contract worker has not returned to the hospital.
The six state employees were placed on paid leave after the 30-day period ended. Okubo said an additional State Hospital employee was placed on unpaid leave Wednesday and is expected to remain on leave until the investigation is completed.
Though it remains unclear how Saito acquired the cash, fraudulent driver’s licenses and cellphones, committee members questioned officials on the policy involving searching patients’ mail.
STATE SEN. Jill Tokuda, vice chairwoman of the Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee, peppered officials with questions on whether there is a policy in place to check patients’ mail, which could contain cash or contraband such as cellphones, which are prohibited to patients.
“Can all the patients there, regardless of their level of freedom, if I want to mail them something right now right off this table, who here checks their mail?” Tokuda asked. “Can a medical facility restrict access to stuff being sent to them? Can anything we do or you do restrict them from receiving anything, and can you even check it?”
State Hospital Administrator William May said, “The way the mail receiving policy reads is if we have a reason to suspect something may not be appropriate, we will open the mail in front of the patient. In absence of that, we do not do it.”
“That policy is under review and it may be changed.” May said. “We have our patient’s rights advocate as well as our performance improvement committee looking at that right now.”
State health officials shared actions and plans in place to boost security at the hospital, which include a 12-foot-high interior fence being constructed and plans for an exterior fence to surround the grounds.
Source: Hawaii State Hospital
Contractors are currently installing a 12-foot-high interior fence within hospital grounds, closing gaps between buildings. State officials also plan to install an exterior fence to increase security.