Law­mak­ers push for an­swers on State Hos­pi­tal pa­tient’s es­cape

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Rosemarie Bernardo rbernardo@starad­ver­tiser.com

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.

ALA KOOLAU STREET POOKELASTREET KU ST STAR-ADVERTISER

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.

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