LIHU‘E — Last March, the state Department of Health took over the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center as a COVID-19 isolation facility, then the county canceled a service-provider’s contract, and the focus of the building’s use shifted.
The topic of the ATHC will be on the Kaua‘i County Council’s agenda Wednesday, but during an executive session, which is closed to the public.
Councilmembers KipuKai Kuali‘i and Bernard Carvalho Jr. requested the briefing from members of the administration and the Office of the County Attorney, “out of a deep concern for our ATHC returning to its original, intended purpose as agreed to with the land donor, the community, the state and other partners,” Kuali‘i said in a statement Thursday.
“Since we haven’t yet received an update on the status of the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center in this new term, Councilmember Carvalho and I requested this briefing from members of the administration and Office of the County Attorney,” Kuali‘i explained.
“Though we are aware of its current use as a COVID-19-isolation facility, it’s our hope to gain a better understanding of the details involved in what will hopefully be a transition back to its intended use as an ATHC,” Kuali‘i said.
The integrated treatment and healing center was a priority for the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste and then-mayor Carvalho’s administration. The center’s initial purpose was to provide long-term care and outpatient treatment for adolescents with mental-health or substance-abuse disorders.
“The whole purpose of the center is to heal the troubled youth with the land and heal at home with their family,” Carvalho said. The county does not have an on-island facility of this nature and, often, youth must seek treatment off-island, sometimes on the mainland.
Carvalho said he and Kuali‘i have met with various county departments to discuss the center. The executive session, Carvalho said, is to lay out a few different options on the table with the full council that have the support of nonprofits and community stakeholders he could not name.
“We’re trying to get (everything) clarified. The executive session will place everything on the table,” Carvalho said. “The health and wellness of our community is so important. We believe we can move forward with the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center.”
How we got here
In 2018, the county broke ground on a 5.8-acre plot from Grove Farm in Kapaia to be the first on-island facility of its kind in over two decades, to replace an adolescent treatment facility that was destroyed by Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992. In October 2019, the county awarded the contract for services to Hope Treatment Services, an O‘ahu-based, mental-health-care provider.
The county claimed that from mid-January to February 2020, there seemed to be little progress toward opening the center from Hope Treatment, which the provider refuted. In March, the facility was commandeered for pandemic use as a potential place to quarantine or isolate individuals.
The same day Hope Treatment asked when it could come back to continue, the county canceled the contract.
Friday, Stanley Perpignan of Hope Treatment said he has reached out to the county, offering to return, but has not heard back.
“Whenever the county wants, we’re willing to finish the process we started,” Perpignan said.
These contract issues occurred while the county had moved operational control of the ATHC from the County Housing Agency to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney “to align juvenile-justice opportunities with diversion emphasis,” Mayor Derek Kawakami wrote in the May 7, 2020 supplemental budget memo to the council.
However, since the facility is still being held as a quarantine zone, Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said his office has not been able to have access to the site. It’s been frustrating, Kollar said, but the goal to get the facility open to help at-risk youth is still there.
Part of what caused community uproar was the shift in focus and lack of commitment to the original purpose of the center, which was to house on-island youth, Carvalho noted.
County Managing Director Michael Dahilig said that, at this time, “The Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center serves as a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19 and keeping our island safe, mainly as an isolation facility for those who contracted COVID-19.”
However, the administration remains “committed to seeing through the center’s original intent to assist Kaua‘i youth with drug issues, and we will work with our prosecutor’s office to see that end achieved.”
The Kaua‘i County Council will meet Wednesday, March 10 at 8:30 a.m.