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Kruse hears reasons for delay in building mental health center

reporters@samoanews.com

Another delay in the construction of the Behavioral Health Center, which broke ground in April this year, was revealed in the High Court yesterday morning.

A representative of the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) Sandy Tonumaipe’a was the first witness to testify, telling the court that the delay is from the Department of Interior, which is providing the funding of $3.2 million for the Behavioral Health Center.

Tonumaipe’a said the DOI now wants to have the project be federally approved from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Veterans Affairs (VA).

She explained that she submitted the scope of work of the mental facility to the VA in May and it was submitted last week to CMS for their review and approval.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse reminded the witness that she is under oath and the court can hold her in contempt of court if what she says is not true.

Tonumaipe’a said that they were only informed by the DOI several weeks ago that the scope of work must be federally approved before DOI releases the funding.

Head of the Civil Division, Assistant Attorney General Sarah Everett told the court that there has been a delay in constructing the Behavioral Health Center because the initial building plans were not CMS compliant. 

“If the territory constructs the facility without meeting CMS requirements then it is unable to collect CMS funding for services in the future,” said Everett.

“CMS funding is crucial because it pays for a large percentage of the operating costs.  We have accomplished nothing if we build a facility, but are unable to fund its operating costs, such as staffing, supplies, medications, etc.” she added.

“It’s important that we take the time to construct the facility in compliance with CMS requirements so that the territory may adequately serve our residents with behavioral health issues, both now and for years to come”.

Ms Everett said the Department of Public Works (DPW) has spent hundreds of hours revising the building plans based on the CMS building requirements and those plans have been finalized by DPW and were submitted to the Department of Interior (DOI) and CMS for approval.

Once DOI and CMS have approved the revised plans then the Request for Bid will be submitted and construction of the Behavioral Health Center may begin shortly thereafter.

Kruse told Tonumaipe’a to make sure that the TOFR Director Falema’o Pili will be present during the next status hearing, which will be held July 20, 2012.

Also taking the stand was Acting Director of the Department of Health, Dr. Saipale Fuimaono who told the court that there are two or three individuals who are civilly committed and housing them at the Tafuna Correctional Facility is not the proper place for them.

Kruse told Dr. Saipale that he expects the DOH Director to come to court on the next status hearing and must have the answer to the questions he posed during the last status hearing.

(Samoa News understands that Elisapeta Ponousuia, who was rejected by the Senate twice for the post of DOH director, holds the title of “Acting DOH director”, through her position as DOH Deputy Director. However, she is currently off-island, which is why Dr. Saipale is the Acting Director of DOH.)

The CJ added that it’s mandated by law that the Director of the Department of Health is solely responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, and care of persons suffering from mental illness or deficiency. Their care shall be carried out in a manner and in places designated by the Director of Health, he told Dr. Saipale.

The Behavioral Health Center is to be constructed between the Tafuna Correctional Facility and the Juvenile Detention Center in Tafuna.

During the groundbreaking for this facility, Governor Togiola Tulafono thanked Chief Justice Michael Kruse for his perseverance, “because if the Chief Justice had not threatened the Department of Health, Department of Public Works, Department of the Human Social Services, and the LBJ hospital, they would have not sought my assistance in trying to get the funding to build this facility.”

He added this project is long overdue.



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