KAPAIA — Teenagers struggling with substance abuse will soon be able to get the treatment they need without leaving the island.
About 100 people gathered at the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center on Ma‘alo Road Thursday to bless the new facility and celebrate its grand opening.
“I can’t believe this day is finally here,” said Theresa Koki, coordinator for Life’s Choices Kauai, the county’s anti-drug community outreach program.
The rehabilitation center should be up and running by year’s end, two years after construction crews broke ground on what had been an undeveloped 5.8-acre plot of land near Hanamaulu.
Plans for an on-island substance-abuse-treatment facility have been in the works for well over a decade. Efforts to find a site and fund operations spanned three different administrations, beginning with the late former Mayor Bryan Baptiste, who first tried to get it built on a lot near Salt Pond Beach Park in 2005.
The plan faced pushback from the local community and never came to fruition. But when Bernard Carvalho was elected mayor in 2008, he took the project on and kept moving forward.
Another site in Hanama‘ulu almost worked out, but plans there fell through, too. Years passed, and administrators and legislators kicked proposals back and forth.
“It was a fight the whole way, but it was worth it,” Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami said.
“Now that this facility is complete, the real work begins,” he said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it’s going to take our whole village to let this healing process take place.”
Carvalho recounted the 10 years he spent in office struggling to get the adolescent treatment facility funded and approved by lawmakers.
“No tell me no can. Tell me how can,” he said. “Every time they tell me no, I tell ‘em find me somebody going tell me yes.”
State Rep. James Tokioka said the project went through many changes in the years since its inception, as state and county officials responsible for approving the facility came and went, “but one thing that didn’t change was the passion, the direction and the focus of Theresa Koki.”
The project has been her baby since Baptiste hired her to run the county’s anti-drug program.
For her, Thursday represented the culmination of years of struggle and perseverance, a pursuit driven by firsthand knowledge of the pain of sending a child from home to get treatment.
“That flight to Oahu — that 20-minute flight — is the longest of your life. I know that for a fact,” she said, remembering the plane ride she took with her son, who she dropped off at a substance-abuse rehabilitation center.
Her son, who ironically was born on the day Hurricane Iniki destroyed Kauai’s last adolescent treatment facility in 1992, eventually recovered, and Koki proudly said he would have been at Thursday’s ceremony but he owns his own business and had to work.
Daily operations at the rehab facility will be handled by Hope Treatment Services, an Oahu-based, mental-health-care provider. Hope’s program director, Stanley Perpignan, moved to Kauai about a week ago in order to manage the treatment center, and said he intends to keep his focus local.
“You first. That’s my goal,” Perpignan said, promising a group of government officials during a tour after Thursday’s ceremony that Kauai teenagers would get priority over potential clients from other islands in the event of limited space.
The facility has eight bedrooms, meaning there will be space for 16 live-in patients at any given time. Perpignan said drug-treatment programs take months or even years to complete. But the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center’s residential wing is only half of the facility.
Perpignan said the center will partner with the state Department of Education to work with kids who are struggling in the public school system, offering them a practical alternative to expulsion.
“Instead of kicking them out, send them here,” he said.