Protecting our children

LIHUE — A year-long study finds a proposed adolescent county residential drug treatment and healing facility on Kauai is feasible, and the mayor said he plans to select the preferred site for the facility by the end of the year.

“This is a very important project and we have every intention of moving it forward as quickly as possible,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. “The feasibility study is extremely valuable in helping us to understand the need on Kauai so that we can design a facility that will truly help our precious children.”

The study was conducted by Norma Doctor Sparks and Steve Sparks with Families First Hawaii Services, Inc., a Koloa-based firm. They reviewed data from state, county and private agencies, and interviewed more than 75 individuals from government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community members, according to a county press release.

The report was made available online Friday at www.kauai.gov/lifeschoiceskauai. It details how a youth drug treatment and healing facility might serve Kauai. The report recommends developing a continuum of care with integrated and coordinated services prior to building a facility.

Alcohol is the primary drug of choice by adolescents on Kauai, but the study notes self-reported use of marijuana and illegally used prescription medications. Males are five times more likely to wind up in 5th Circuit Court for a substance abuse issue.

The Kauai Family Guidance Center reported giving a primary diagnosis of substance abuse to 66 adolescents in 2010, and 64 in 2011. The center diagnosed a disorder involving substance abuse 382 times in 2010, and 341 times in 2011.

Most youth are recommended to outpatient services and residential treatment is reserved for high-level addictions that require at least six months in-patient care and up to one year. The report recommends having at least six court ordered referrals and 13 residential placements per year to justify the need for a facility, and that off island referrals to Kauai must be considered to ensure full operation.

Kauai Chief of Police Darryl Perry said the Kauai Police Department is a committed community partner in this endeavor and will address all concerns with the area residents as it moves forward. His concern is to move forward on the facility because children and their ohana are suffering.

“Family has always been the foundation of who we are as a culture, and as a caring community we need to take care of our own,” Perry said. “Because, if not us, then who?”

The relatively low number of female adolescents referred to drug treatment on Kauai prompted the study to recommend against adding a female wing to the center. The report said it was not feasible and instead recommended girls to use a multisystemic therapy that involves school and home.

County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said the treatment center is long overdue and was pleased that the study found it was feasible. He was disappointed, however, with its recommendation against providing services for adolescent girls at the facility.

“I believe there is a need for drug treatment for boys and girls on Kauai and I hope that the facility, wherever it is located and whatever form it takes, will provide services for both boys and girls,” Kollar said.

A $5 million bond over five years would cost the county $320,000 per year in principle and interest. The $1.2 million estimated construction cost would be covered by the county, state capital improvement funds, and private donations on Grove Farm land donated in the Isenberg and Kauai Gardens subdivision on Lihue in 2011.

County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said the study is good for showing cost projections and for the need to identify cost-effective ways to provide treatment and prevention. It is important to consider costs of this need along with competing needs such as drug prevention and affordable housing, she said.

“Just because there is a need doesn’t mean that we can meet it, or that there is only one way to meet it,” Yukimura said. “The feasibility study doesn’t only establish need, it shows us the different options for meeting the need, which is very important.”

Based on budgetary and other county responsibilities, some options are feasible and sustainable and others are not, she said. Two adolescent centers in larger communities of Oahu and Maui have shut down for lack of feasible options or design problems and this must be considered.

“The feasibility study has good information showing us how to avoid that end result,” Yukimura said. “The Isenberg option does not appear to be the best option based on the feasibility study, and I urge interested parties to read the study carefully.”

A new facility, or a renovated existing structure, managed by a private service provider has an annual facility cost of $1,060,000, whether all beds are full or not. If the facility is full year-round, the reimbursements from Hawaii Department of Health would yield a $130,000 profit to the service provider after $60,000 in rent to the county.

With six clients the provider would show a loss of $177,736 and the county would pay $437,736 in principal and interest on the facility bond. With four clients the provider loses $491,824 and the county pays $751,824.

If there is not enough funding for those beds then the county pays both capital and operating costs for annual expenses, Yukimura said. There is concern for enough referrals to keep the facility solvent.

Yukimura said the study shows that work needs to be done before selecting a site. This is a time to explore ways to help many times that number of youth off drugs with prevention and treatment using the same amount of funding, she said.

“Those are some of things we need to look at,” Yukimura said. “I am in support of it if we can make it work economically, but I don’t think we should be building a facility from scratch.”

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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