The shiny new hospital building has remained empty for more than a year as the state resolves personnel issues, construction problems and design flaws.
Hawaii State Hospital officials have discovered their water system does not provide enough pressure to meet the necessary fire flow requirements for their new psychiatric facility, and are asking for another $5.3 million to install a new fire suppression system for the hospital campus.
The new psychiatric facility cost $160 million and has already been standing empty for a year, mostly because of labor and training issues, design flaws and some construction defects that need to be fixed.
State Department of Health officials said in a written statement the fire suppression issue will not further delay the opening of the facility, and said they are “steadily making progress and are targeting the next several months for move in.”
In October the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the 144-bed psychiatric facility still hadn’t opened five months after Gov. David Ige’s administration unveiled the building and offered tours to the media. The delay at that time was blamed on complications with developing operating policies, and problems filling staff positions.
On Tuesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard a report from state Comptroller Curt Otaguro disclosing there were also design flaws with the facility that raised concerns about “ligatures,” meaning it had features such as door handles or hinges that could be used by patients to hang themselves.
The state is using money left over from the original sum budgeted for the facility to replace the hardware and fix other features to the building “to make it less dangerous,” he said. That work is underway by Hensel Phelps Construction Co., which won the contract to design and build the psychiatric facility.
“Unfortunately, there are some other, what I would call careless mistakes that need to be fixed,” Otaguro said, adding that “the contractor is on it.”
The health department said in a written response to questions that it discovered issues in the new facility such as “shower floors being sloped away from the shower drains. This creates flooding and standing water in patient bathrooms, bedrooms, and some of the shared hallways.”
Otaguro said that is “clearly not acceptable.”
He added: “We need people to move in so that we can have what we call operationalization so we can actually see things in action and fix things.”
Later in the same hearing, state Health Director Elizabeth Char described another problem at the facility for lawmakers, which is low water pressure that could affect the response to a fire.
The new building has a sprinkler system, “but what we’re finding is there won’t be enough flow and pressure for the rest of the campus,” she said.
Char called it a life-safety issue, but the department said in a written response to questions that it will not further delay the opening of the new building.
According to a written submittal by the department to lawmakers, the sprinkler system in the new building needs more flow pressure than other buildings on the campus, and the current water system “does not provide the required flow pressure to fulfill established fire flow requirements” for the psychiatric facility.
The hospital campus including the older buildings uses a water storage tank as a backup water supply when the electrical power goes out, according to the submittal.
“Without HECO power, there is no municipal water pressure, and the hospital would receive no water for patients, employees, and visitors. The existing water storage tank can provide water for typical hospital uses but is not enough to fight a fire,” according to the submittal to lawmakers.
According to the submittal, the existing system can supply up to about 1,500 gallons per minute for up to 90 minutes, but the current Board of Water Supply standards for a hospital facility call for 4,000 gpm for three hours.
“The hospital understands that there is an increased risk of a power outage during hurricane season (June through November) each year and a long power outage would put the hospital at greater risk without these improvements,” according to the report to lawmakers.
The planned fire suppression system would remedy that by increasing the capacity of two water lines and adding an extra storage tank.
The new psychiatric facility was originally scheduled to open last fall, but the pandemic and the other issues caused delays, the department said in its response to questions.
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