DOH Eyes Old Kona Courthouse as New Treatment Center

January 28, 2020, 4:20 PM HST (Updated January 28, 2020, 4:02 PM)
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Rep. Nicole Lowen.

The old Kona Courthouse in Kealakekua may soon be repurposed for use as a short-term transitional treatment facility for those suffering from drug addiction and/or behavioral health issues, specifically the homeless.

In what Deputy Director of Behavioral Health Eddie Mersereau called “a very tentative plan at this point,” the state Department of Health has initiated early conversations about the site’s potential to fill identified care gaps.

“We have taken some steps to explore the possibilities, and we are working with other relevant stakeholders such as the Legislature to determine the when and how,” Mersereau said. “We are looking at 12 beds to be used for post-acute services.”

Improved subacute stabilization is one goal DOH has laid out in a broader plan to create a more comprehensive continuum of care, which it believes will create positive ripple effects throughout the community.

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“Communities that lack a comprehensive service continuum and coordinated resources are often burdened with public safety issues, law enforcement having to engage in crisis situations, increased expenses due to incarceration and elevated healthcare resources spent on behavioral health crisis care,” a DOH Behavioral Health Administration plan said.

Many who suffer from behavioral health concerns also deal with drug and/or alcohol addiction. If developed, the Kealakekua site could be equipped to handle those requiring co-treatment in a residential setting.

Reverting the old courthouse back to a hospital, as it was originally designed, would require some smaller-scale renovations, which means funding by the state.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, of Kona’s 6th District, said securing money for said renovations by way of Capital Improvement Project funding or bond funding is one of her top priorities this session.

As for what the specific renovations might be and what they might cost, Lowen was unable to elaborate this early in the process.

If repurposed into a treatment facility, the old Kona Courthouse, which is located just down the hill from Kona Community Hospital, would be a state-run operation. However, it would help Hawai‘i County manage several members of its still robust homeless contingent, which was found to be upwards of 700 people in the 2019 Point-In-Time Count study.

The PIT Count is a self-reported, volunteer-conducted study intended only to provide a snapshot of homelessness. It is regarded by all who utilize it as an estimation, and the actual number of homeless is generally believed to be higher than whatever number the count produces.

Max Dible
Max Dible is a reporter for Big Island Now. He will also serve in a news capacity for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter and radio talk show personality with the Iowa State Daily and KURE 88.5 FM, respectively, in Ames, Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing and his work as a sports columnist.
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