LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i County Council members disapprove of the county’s plans to relocate prosecuting office services into the vacant Kaua‘i’s Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center, and Hope Treatment Services, the company contracted to oversee the original plans, disputes the narrative that led here.
Since 2003, various county administrations have been working toward opening a youth inpatient drug treatment center, pouring county, state and federal funds into the project through the years.
Two years ago, the county broke ground on land on Ma‘alo Road in Kapaia, and held a grand opening last December. Seven months later, the center is vacant.
Hope Treatment Services was awarded the contract at the end of October 2019. Yesterday, Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi told the council that from then to mid-January 2020, there seemed to be little progress to opening the center.
“It appeared to the Housing Agency very little, if anything, was happening from Hope to get the facility up and running,” Roversi said. The initial Request for Proposals for the facility last year only drew two applications, and the county went with Hope Treatment Services, an O‘ahu-based, mental-health-care provider.
Roversi sent a letter to Director Stanley Perpignan on Feb. 28 stating the county’s concerns that after three and a half months, there were no furnishings, employees, licensing or contracts with other youth service agencies.
The letter gave an ultimatum: secure state license, employees and be housing clients by 9 a.m. on March 31 or have the operating agreement terminated.
Hope Treatment Services contradicted that timeline.
Perpignan said his team only got the keys to the facility in January and in the meantime was working on getting its Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance license, which can take up to a year in his experience.
In his response dated March 9, Perpignan disputes Roversi’s claims line by line, writing that Hope Treatment had met with furniture distributors from November to December last year, that some furnishings were delivered at the end of January and more were to be installed in the coming months as the team worked on getting licensing. At the time of writing, he said, all beds and classroom furniture were assembled and in place.
Perpignan said there was no response to this March letter.
Roversi told the council this letter “left us (the county) to feel the relationship between the county and Hope had disintegrated.”
Roversi also said that Hope Treatment did not allow county personnel on the property and that all communications had to be in writing.
Hope Treatment said this is untrue and that the county has its own copy of a master key and had been onto the property twice, once to show a prospective rental tenant the space and another to take over the facility as a pandemic response, which the service was notified of by email.
On March 13, Hope Treatment received notice that Mayor Derek Kawakami issued an emergency requisition taking over the ATHC to use for pandemic use. County Managing Director Michael Dahilig said the center is currently being used as a quarantine facility. The Department of Health would not confirm or deny it was using the facility.
“Hope Treatment Services has since made several attempts at contacting the county through legal representation and has yet to receive a response aside from a request asking for the keys we retain,” Perpignan said.
Perpignan said he’s called the county to ask for a reconsideration and has not heard back.
The facility has eight bedrooms with space for 16 live-in patients on a 5.8-acre plot of land donated by Grove Farm. It was meant to replace an adolescent treatment facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. After 17 years since the idea first started to get off the ground, the project finally seemed to be coming to fruition.
As part of the upcoming fiscal year budget that begins in July, the county proposed moving the county’s Life’s Choices substance abuse prevention program from the Housing Agency to the Office of the Prosecutor.
“This move would also include operational control of the Adolescent Drug Treatment Center to align juvenile justice opportunities with diversion emphasis,” Kawakami wrote in the May 7 supplemental budget memo to the council. “The Prosecutor’s Office will also see the conversion of two grant fund position to dollar-funded General Fund positions to allow flexibility in painting services given the anticipated reduction in some federal justice grant programs.”
Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said that when the county approached his office with the idea, it was appealing.
“We have been looking for a way to do more prevention and treatment work in line with our vision of juvenile justice on Kaua‘i,” Kollar told the council.
Kollar isn’t anticipating on relocation or moving all of his office’s services into the space, but plans to use the center as a meeting space for attorneys working with victims of domestic violence and sex abuse, Kaua‘i Teen Court, tobacco cessation among other services. He also hopes to work with the Department of Education and offer services for at-risk youth on the island.
Councilmembers Felicia Cowden, KipuKai Kuali‘i and Mason Chock expressed their disappointment in the county for the pivot.
Kuali‘i worried that by reutilizing the space instead of focusing on the plans for a treatment center, the original goals would be left behind.
“I still feel strongly that we are not doing the right thing here in not sticking to the youth treatment center,” Kuali‘i said. “Those services are as needed as anything else on the island. Maybe even more.”
Cowden works closely with the at-risk community and has heard from constituents who are disappointed with the county’s plans.
“When we take a big project like this and we redirect it, it undermines the people’s faith in government,” Cowden said.
Dahilig said that even if there wasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility still wouldn’t be in operation.
“With nothing happening up at the center, we would have also been held accountable by the community,” Dahilig said. “That’s where we had to make the judgment call on looking at whether we try to look at something operational realistic in the interim.”
Chock said that he felt blindsided by the county’s decision, which he only learned about in detail from a Civil Beat article last week.
“I understand the administration’s position that there needs to be something,” Chock said, “but I understand that if we veer too far in one direction and don’t stay the course as we have in 17 years, we will not make it.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.