- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Former employees have claimed in a lawsuit that Hawaii State Hospital supervisors created an unsafe work environment that resulted in daily attacks by patients on workers.

The class action lawsuit was filed Friday by three former hospital workers. It claims supervisors chose not hire additional staff to handle patients and downgraded patient assessment levels, a factor that determines staffing levels, to create the impression the state’s only public mental health facility was adequately staffed, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (https://is.gd/JzGnXW).

It also claims management could have created a safer work environment by hiring additional and physically capable staff members and emphasizing staff safety.

The employees’ attorney, Michael Green, said the lawsuit will represent about 300 people, employees who have been assaulted at the hospital since January 2006.

“There’s multiple beatings every day,” Green said. “We have people who are highly educated who will never work again. They have brain injuries. They’re on workers’ comp. They’re on more medication than the patients.”

The lawsuit claims many of the patients admitted to Hawaii State Hospital are inmates from the state prison system who have been referred for mental evaluations, but the hospital has no law enforcement personnel on staff.

State figures presented during a legislative hearing this year showed more than 1,200 attacks at the hospital between 2006 and 2013, although hospital administrators have said the number is misleading because some nonviolent incidents are classified as assaults.

The lawsuit was filed by Joshua Akeo, a psychiatric nurse, and Kalford Keanu Jr. and Ryan Oyama, both psychiatric technicians. All claim they can’t work because of injuries from attacks that allegedly happened because of understaffing.

The defendants include William Elliot, former acting administrator who retired in August, and Emma Wilson Evans, associate chief of nursing.

“The complaint that Mr. Green filed has not been served yet on the state,” James Walther, a deputy attorney general, told the Associated Press on Wednesday in an email. “As far as I can tell, neither DOH nor our office have seen it.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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