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Kruse issues stern warning to all agencies providing mental health facility

Chief Justice Michael Kruse warned government officials at a hearing on the status of the mental health facility last Friday that he’s going to hold someone in contempt if they don’t walk the walk. The High Court heard from government officials that a groundbreaking for the mental health facility, which would accommodate defendants who are civilly committed, is set for “sometime” in May.

Head of the Attorney General Office Civil Division, Assistant Attorney General Sarah Everett called to the stand three government representatives to explain to the court the status of the mental health facility.

The facility is to be constructed between the Juvenile Detention Center and the Tafuna Correctional Facility in Nu’uuli, said Sandy Tonumaipe’a a representative of Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) who was the first witness to testify. TOFR is the government agency that is responsible for handling capital improvement projects in the territory.

Tonumaipe’a said that $3.2 million had been approved by the Department of Interior in the FY 2011 budget for the construction of the mental facility. However, the DOI has yet to approve the Scope of Work for the mental facility, she said, adding that the Scope of Work was sent to DOI last week Thursday, and TOFR is currently waiting for the approval on this project.

Director of Department of Public Works, Taeaotui Punaofo Tilei, the second witness to testify, said Public Works is ready to proceed, they have all the necessary permits approved and they are looking at having the bid out sometime this week.

Taeaotui told the court he met with the governor, who was upset about the prolonged construction of the mental facility. The public works director said all the government agencies involved in this project should work together and it would help speed up the process.

The director presented the court with a new set of plans for the mental facility, and Kruse noted that the new sets of plans is in addition to the other “fancy sets of plans” that have already been submitted to the court previously.

Taeaotui said they are anticipating the construction of the facility should be completed in eight months.

The final witness to testify was Acting Director for Department of Health Elisapeta Ponousuia, who said a proposal was sent to the Governor's Office last year regarding funding for staffing, equipment, nurses and a psychiatrist, but she has yet to receive a response.

Kruse told Ponausuia “I’ll reinforce that SHALL in the law and I’m looking for faces to hold in contempt if nothing progresses… this is serious.”

The Chief Justice noted that this is the same song and dance which occurred while trying to establish a juvenile detention center.

He told the Health Department’s acting director, “I’ve got the May groundbreaking date seared in my head, you should also have it seared in your head”.

The CJ then quoted the law in Title 13, which provides that the diagnosis, treatment and care of persons suffering from mental illness or deficiency shall be carried out in a manner and in places designated by the Director of Health or his designee.

Kruse said there will be consequences if nothing progresses in May.