News Article Details

Lawsuit alleges lack of care for Hawaii youth with mental illness

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - 7/23/2019

Jul. 23--Soleil "Kela" Feinberg's mental health spiralled downward because the state of Hawaii failed to provide prescribed treatment after she turned 19, her parents allege in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Feinberg, 21, is confined at Hawaii State Hospital, suffering from schizoaffective disorder, post­-trau­matic stress disorder and anorexia nervosa. She wound up there after a series of mental health crises that her parents believe could have been avoided.

"If Kela had gotten the treatment she needed, none of this would have happened," said Victoria Feinberg, Kela's mother. "The state basically ignored me and all the warning signs."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on Feinberg's behalf by her parents against Pankaj Bhanot, director of the Department of Human Services, and Bruce Anderson, director of the Department of Health, in their official capacities. It alleges violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The Feinbergs are represented by Paul Alston and Claire Wong Black of the law firm Dentons, and Victor Geminiani and Thomas Helper of Lawyers for Equal Justice, Hawaii.

"Although the law is clear that the state has to provide services until age 21, the state is routinely ending mental health services after age 18," said Geminiani, executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice. "We believe that there are dozens or hundreds of other young people in Hawaii who are suffering because the state simply isn't doing what the law requires."

Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said she could not comment on pending litigation, but she said the state does not terminate mental health services for youth after age 18.

Kela showed no symptoms of mental illness until eighth grade. Once diagnosed at 14, she received services through the Health Department's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division until shortly after her 19th birthday, according to the suit.

She then cycled in and out of crisis care at the Molokini Unit at Maui Memorial Hospital. In September 2018 nursing staff pressed charges against her for assault. She was transferred to Hawaii State Hospital in December, and in May she was found unfit to stand trial on those charges. She remains committed indefinitely.

The lawsuit says Medicaid's Early and Period Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment provision mandates youth-oriented mental health services until patients turn 21. It contends that Feinberg failed to get prescribed care after she turned 19 from the state Health Department's Adult Mental Health Division.

On Monday, Lawyers for Equal Justice Hawaii issued a report, "Young Minds at Risk," that criticizes the state for failing to properly care for Medicaid-eligible youth with mental illness. It also highlighted the lack of long-term residential treatment programs, psychiatric providers and funding.

The report is available online at .


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