State Hospital builds long-awaited fence

Photo by Patrick Hascall
The new fence provides a physical barrier between the Hawai‘i State Hospital and the WCC campus – Patrick Hascall

On Saturday, Oct. 29, Allen Pitts, a patient at the Hawai‘i State Hospital, escaped by breaking a window and running away sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., according to police reports. State Hospital staff didn’t notice he was missing until Sunday at around 8 a.m. when they were conducting a routine bed check. Authorities later found and arrested him on Kalia Road in Waikīkī at 11:10 p.m. on Monday.

While Pitts was not found on or near WCC property, the incident underscores the uneasiness some students have felt about the absence of a divider between the campus and the Hawai‘i State Hospital, located just above the school. In the editorial section of the May issue of Ka ‘Ohana, many WCC students wrote that they feel uncomfortable when encountering State Hospital patients on WCC’s campus.

“One individual was following me and kept asking me for my phone number … (however) most walking through our campus are harmless,” student Donita Garcia wrote.

Student Cynthia Lee Sinclair agrees that most patients are harmless but still feels they shouldnʻt be walking around on the college campus.

“I am tired of having creepy guys glare at me when I drive up the back road going up to ‘Ākoakoa. I think they should have to walk around on the state road and not be allowed to exercise by walking around on our campus.”

Students like Garcia and Sinclair, however, can now rest easier because construction of a fence separating the two campuses has begun.

“The fence marks the boundary between the State Hospital and WCC,” said WCC Chancellor Douglas Dykstra, who met with State Hospital officials on Oct. 20 to discuss the fence. “Admittedly, the fence will have gates to enable State Hospital ‘residents’ and employees, as distinct from patients, leave and return to State Hospital grounds.”

Dykstra said that he’s pleased to see a demarcation between the two campuses and that the sense of security of the college community is aided by the fact that cameras will be installed at each fence gate that can monitor if anyone leaves the hospital grounds and if they are authorized to do so. The fence is being funded entirely by the State Hospital.

“Windward Community College hopes the improvements being made by the Hawai‘i State Hospital will also improve the safety of our WCC campus community,” said WCC Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Brian Pactol, who has been involved in the planning and development of the fence.

Not everyone agrees there should be a fence, however. “With no accounts of major incidents, what would be the reason to withdraw monetary funds from the health care of mentally patients … ?” student Zak W. wrote in May.

Sinclair says she’s glad there is a fence but believes that the placement of the gates creates a liability for the school. One of the gates leads to a grassy hill and a rock wall on the WCC side with no stairs or walkway.

Pactol said the installation of the fence could take “another month or so” to complete but that it will indeed be ready by spring semester.

The State Hospital also has begun building a new, long-term healthcare facility on the Bishop Parcel territory, the piece of land located to the side of Hale ‘Ākoakoa. The new building will include 144 more beds and cost $160 million.

by Joshua Farias, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter