HONOLULU - Forget about President Trump's proposed border wall.  Hawaii could be paying nearly $20 million for a fence.

It could end up being the most expensive fence in the state, but that might be the price residents pay to turn the Hawaii State Hospital into a secure facility.

Following Randall Saito's escape from the Hawaii State Hospital in November, there have been a number of changes inside the facility, including more unannounced unit searches and head counts, along with security guards being more visible.

"What we need to do is look at better staffing. Making sure part-time positions are permanent and we have enough people there," said Senator Rosalyn Baker, the chair of the Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee.

Outside, at the hospital a fence is going in at the lower campus. The $250,000 installation is expected to be finished next month.
But the project pales in comparison to the massive barrier the state would like to install around the entire perimeter of the 103 acre hospital grounds.

A 12 foot high fence with the upper section made of non climbable mesh, and topped with barbed wire, similar to ones used around Hawaii prisons.

But it comes with a massive price tag of $17 million, an amount some legislators balk at paying...for a fence.

"That is an amount that could do a lot of good in other places. To have it diverted to a fence, I'm not certain that is the best strategy to make sure the state hospital is more secure than it was when we had the elopement," added Baker.

Department of health personnel have already visited other facilities on the mainland that use electronic monitoring of patients, with GPS tracking.

The devices are already in use in Hawaii with the Department of Public Safety and typically cost $150 each month for units and monitoring. The use of trackers would only add up to $30,000 per year for all of the 200 patients currently at the hospital.

The governor already signed off on the $17 million fence request, and now it will be up to lawmakers to decide if they will fund it.

DOH is also looking to spend a half a million dollars to add lights and security cameras, as well as get more metal detectors and restraints for patients, in its effort to prevent more escapes.

"We need to be smart about what we require and spend to make sure at the end of the day we have the personnel, equipment and buildings so we have no elopements of this kind in the future," added Baker.

Before lawmakers make a decision on funding for the state hospital, they are waiting for an another report to see if additional safety recommendations have actually been made.

They are also waiting for the Attorney General's independent review of how Saito escaped in the first place.