Chief Justice: Same Old Song from ASG on Mental Health

A doubting Chief Justice Michael Kruse was not swayed by statements from ASG officials of their plans for the new mental health facility that will soon be opened at the LBJ Hospital.

A hearing in Kruse’s court room yesterday was to find out what the government is doing to meet its statutory responsibility to provide health care for residents with mental health conditions, including those who are incarcerated.

The Chief Justice cited cases where such detainees were unable to get medication or treatment by health professionals

Director of Health Motusa Tuileaama Nua and CEO of LBJ Hospital Taufetee John Faumuina Jr took the stand during the hour long hearing.

Other officials who were in court were Commissioner of Public Safety Save Liuato Tuitele, Human and Social Services Director Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona, Director of the Medicaid Office, Sandra King Young, the prison warden, LBJ psychiatrists and nurses from Public Health.

The Director of Health informed the court that a new 10-bed mental health facility is 98% complete and its planned to be opened at the end of February or early March.

Funding and in kind contributions for the facility will come from the Department of Health which is contributing $550,000, the LBJ hospital which is putting in $500,00 and the Department of Human and Social Services also contributing half a million dollars.

It will have a staff of 12, ten of whom would be existing personnel transferred from DOH and two new hires.

Motusa testified that a supplemental appropriations bill of $1.9 million will be submitted to the Fono in the new session to help fund the operation of the new facility.

It was revealed at yesterday’s hearing that the governor has established by executive order a new Council that would, among other duties, issue policies and procedures for the day to day care of patients and staffing of the facility.

The new Council will also plan and budget for the operations of the facility for the rest of this fiscal year and come up with a funding mechanism for it in FY2017 and beyond.

The Council is called the American Samoa Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council and it will have two members each from ten government departments and agencies, non government organizations with resources in behavioral health and consumers, family and caregivers.

It did not escape the Chief Justice that the executive order was only signed Monday.

Kruse had a lot of questions about the actual running of the facility, the funding, staffing , how it will function under such a large council and who will call the shots.

He said it’s one thing to have a new facility but his main concern was whether it will function in a way that’s beneficial to the population needing mental treatment.

He said he has been on the bench for over twenty years and the plans outlined by the government were the same song that the court has been hearing.

The chief justice said the plans, including financing for the mental health facility sound good in theory but not in practice.

He also commented that the government tends to move just to placate the Court but in the end there’s no improvement in the status quo,

He cited names of defendants who have been before the court who have not had access to mental health care,

The Chief Justice said when the LBJ was separated from the Department of Health some of the functions migrated with the hospital but not the provision of mental health services.

This was still a mandated duty of the Director of Health .

Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop said it’s anticipated that new legislation will be introduced to address this, and added that the government had made progress in addressing the court’s concerns of the lack of services for people with mental illnesses.

She said she’s only been with the government for 7 years and progress has been made.

Kruse recollected that during Chief Justice Gardner’s tenure he ordered that detainees with mental conditions be accommodated in a suite at the Rainmaker Hotel.

He didn’t think Tom Drabble, would want the same order for his hotel.

He was not sure how a Council with so many different departments represented would function.

At the end of the hearing, the Chief Justice said he was giving the government up to May 10 to come up with a more substantive plan than what was presented yesterday which he characterized as full of anticipation and unknowns.

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