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Facing litigation, Kaua‘i County returns drug treatment facility to Grove Farm

LIHU‘E — In early 2017, Grove Farm donated almost six acres of land to the county to be used for an youth drug-treatment center.

More than five years and $7 million of taxpayer investment later, the land will be returned to the for-profit development company.

The Kaua‘i County Council voted unanimously Wednesday to deed the facility back to its previous owners, ending the county leadership role in the long struggle to get the center off the ground, which has been marred by struggles finding an operator, legal troubles and a global pandemic.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” said Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro. “But at the end of the day, we might not be the most appropriate organization to get it going.”

Using a combination of state and local funds, the county completed a 16,000-square-foot facility on the donated land in Dec. 2019. O‘ahu-based Hope Treatment Services was contracted to run the facility but, citing the company’s issues with “performance and responsiveness,” the county terminated the contract in 2020 before they began accepting patients. (Hope Treatment Services has since filed litigation against the county for the termination.)

During the pandemic later that year, the county used the facility to treat COVID patients, and in June 2020 the county announced a new plan for the facility as a hub for servicing at-risk youth and families led by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

This July, Grove Farm filed a lawsuit against the county citing a memorandum of understanding that required the property to be used solely for adult and adolescent health-care purposes and be operating within two years — or it would immediately revert to them.

The suit prevented a potential deal with Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation this summer. At the Wednesday meeting, County Attorney Matthew Bracken quoted a letter from the agency stating they didn’t want to get involved in a “legal quagmire.”

With the council vote in favor of the resolution, Bracken said the lawsuit would “go away.”

Plans for the site

Grove Farm will take control of the property under the requirement that they will use it “solely for use for adult and adolescent health-care purposes.” The broad definition was the result of a compromise between the county and the company, Bracken said.

Grove Farm reported Wednesday they have plans in place to get the facility off the ground.

“We are pleased with the approval by the County Council to revert the land back to Grove Farm as stipulated in the deed,” said Warren Haruki, Grove Farm president and CEO. “We can now get to work on the plan that is already in motion to get the center up and running and begin treating and healing our keiki.”

Though they did not lay out the details of the plan, Grove Farm has previously suggested leasing the land for $1 to a coalition of nonprofits under the umbrella Kaua‘i Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing (KATCH), whose board members include former mayor and current Councilmember Bernard Carvalho Jr.

“Grove Farm’s sole objective is to get the facility in the right hands as swiftly as possible,” said Haruki in a press release.

A group of community members testified in favor of the resolution, viewing the transfer as the best path to getting a facility up and running quickly.

“I had to fly to Honolulu to visit my son in treatment,” said Robert Pa. “I couldn’t take my grandchildren to see them. We have a facility over here, built. Why aren’t we using it today?”

The testimony was headlined by an unexpected appearance from Mayor Derek Kawakami, who offered thanks to those who had pushed for the center and apologies for people who struggled with substance abuse as it remained unopened.

“While we made every effort possible to find an operator who could run this center, it has not been an easy task. But throughout it all, our number-one priority has been and continues to be making sure our kids get the treatment they need right here at home,” said Kawakami.

“That’s why we believe that the best path forward today is to let a private-sector entity who is not held to the same requirements the county is obligated to uphold, take over the center. We are hopeful that Grove Farm will have great success in opening this center to finally give our Kaua‘i keiki and community a place to heal, recover and thrive,” said Kawakami.

The mayor has in the past expressed doubts about Grove Farm’s involvement in the process, saying in a previous statement their “past and present actions related to litigation raise questions about the credibility of their desire to really open this center quickly.”

Some testifiers and councilmembers expressed concerns about the lack of restrictions on the deed. Councilmember Luke Evslin said his ideal path forward was to operate the center through the state hospital system.

“Given that it was Grove Farm’s legal action that helped push HHSC out of the picture, I have a hard time handing it back to them,” said Evslin.

“There’s nothing to guarantee that the center is used for drug treatment. Today we’re voting to hand over the facility to a for-profit company with no binding legal obligation on the land to build a drug-treatment center.”

Evslin joined other councilmembers in voting in favor of the resolution, but suggested adding additional restrictions to the property through a zoning overlay.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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