What is Sand Island Treatment Center?
The Center, known at the time of its founding as the Kline Welsh Behavioral Health Foundation, was developed in 1960 as a treatment facility for those suffering from alcohol addiction. By the late 1970s, its founders recognized the community’s deep need for addiction treatment beyond alcohol and expanded its services to reach the most service-resistant individuals in our community, often suffering from drug and alcohol addiction as well as other issues, including mental health concerns, homelessness, and criminal activity.
Is the Center accredited and by whom?
The Center is recognized by HMSA as a preferred provider. It is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), the Hawaii State Department of Health Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division (ADAD), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In its CARF evaluations, the Center has repeatedly received a three-year accreditation, the highest offered by the organization. In reports issued in 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019, CARF found that SITC excels in staffing excellence and well-managed programs and applauded the Center for its well-maintained and peaceful physical setting as well as its compassionate, person-centered care in all aspects of its work.

How is the Center funded?
The funding comes through referral sources, and the Center responds to government agency Request for Proposals (RFPs) for the housing of clients who are in need of treatment over a period of time. In addition to private insurance, much of the funding comes through contracts with the Hawaii State Department of Health Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division (ADAD).
How is Sand Island Treatment Center different from other treatment programs in Hawaii?
The Center’s clientele differs from that of many treatment programs in that their life paths have often left them homeless, incarcerated, and/or facing serious legal jeopardy. The Center is recognized by law enforcement and judicial officials as a “last-stop chance” for addicts who have hit rock bottom. Judges often include a mandatory stay at the Center for repeat offenders as part of their sentencing, and law enforcement officials routinely refer offenders to the Center for help.

The clientele represents the people who need the longest and strongest lifelines in our community. They are service-resistant and are accustomed to living on the streets in an anti-social, distrusting, and fight-for-your-life environment.

The Center’s approach is a long-term one, believing that sobriety and clean living cannot be accomplished in 30-, 60-, 90- or 120-day programs. Instead, the Center offers a residential safe-haven for clients for as long as they need it, often up to two years or longer, where they can break their addictions and rebuild their lives with new habits and skills. The Center teaches the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous and supplements those teachings with counseling on everything from anger management to financial literacy to personal relationships.

The philosophy guiding the Center’s work is that deep damage requires time, teachings, community, and healing before a person can safely return to mainstream life. To cut that short puts the client at risk once they are back out in the world and facing the many challenges, stressors, and temptations that can derail their sobriety.

How does the Center determine which clients they can take and whether they are equipped to best serve them?
The Center’s staff review each case individually, evaluating their patterns of addiction, their behavioral issues, their medical conditions, and their treatment history. They triage the incoming cases, making sure patients who are a danger to themselves and others, pregnant women, and those facing immediate and severe consequences, are admitted first.

Before making a final decision, we ask a simple question: “If we don’t help them, who will?” For many of the individuals referred to the Center, that answer is often “no one.” Those are the clients who are made a top priority.

We keep hearing that the clients at the Center are often judicially referred and can be “tough cases.” Can you elaborate?
The Center’s clients typically come from four sources: HMSA referrals, judicial referrals, veterans’ organizations referrals, and self-referrals. In all cases, their lives have typically spiraled out of control, leaving many of them homeless and dependent on criminal activity to stay alive. Those behaviors often lead to other issues, including mental health problems, anti-social behavior, delusions, and so on.

Most of the clients are fighting multiple demons by the time they arrive at the Center, and treating those various issues requires patience, time, and deep counseling before the hardened persona can crack and be open to a new path.

What is your success rate?
Roughly 33% of our clients complete our full two-year, continuum of care program, a statistic we’re very proud of given the many challenges our clients face and the success rate of similar long-term programs.
The Center is expected to move from its current location to a new facility in the coming months. Can you address that?
Yes, after more than 50 years on the grounds of a WWII chapel on Sand Island, the Center is relocating to a facility in Iwilei that is owned by the City and County of Honolulu and is being offered to the Center as a new location for its ongoing work.

While the move is a big undertaking, the staff and clients are looking forward to this new chapter and believe they can bring their culture of trust and healing to that community and help many others get well.

The move to the new location is necessary due to the expansion of the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

What do former clients have to say about the facility?
The counseling staff at the Center is comprised of former clients who routinely say they owe their lives to SITC. As one counselor says, “Addiction creates a feeling of being alone. People come here to find help and find hope.” Another counselor adds, “The Sand Island Treatment Center saved my life. I’m so grateful this place exists. Nothing else would have saved me.”

Of course, not every client finds success. When that happens, it’s the addict’s tendency to blame others, and for some, they will fault the Center for their failings.

Why are former clients now counselors?
No one understands the mindset and journey of an addict like a recovering addict. They’ve walked this long path, and they are proof that recovery is possible. The Center’s counseling staff are all recovering addicts, many of whom entered the Center over two decades ago.

When clients enter the program and meet their counselors — people who’ve made it through their addiction and built new lives for themselves — they see what’s possible. They are inspired to do the work, and they know they are supported by a community that understands how difficult the journey is.

When people have lived shared experiences, they learn from each other. They find role models. This experience is completely different from that of other treatment options that pair addicts with clinically trained social workers and therapists who have not lived in that world.

Director Mason Henderson has hand-picked the staff over the years, offering opportunities to intern at the Center after the successful completion of treatment and intense training. He then continues to mentor these individuals as they undergo the rigorous preparation and testing required to become certified counselors.

The Center also has a zero-tolerance policy for recreational drugs or alcohol for all of its staff members.

The current facility has been provided to the Center by the City and County of Honolulu for free, and it’s reported the terms for the new facility are quite generous. Can you explain why the city gives the center such a lucrative deal?
When Civil Beat asked the mayor’s office that question, the answer was pretty simple. “If we didn’t find a new location (for them), it would cost the community much more — not just in dollars, but the human equation.”

The city and the Center have enjoyed a very good relationship over the years, as the Center treats the most chronic, service-resistant populations in our community, often getting those people across the finish line and back into society as a taxpayer, employee, and member of a family. The city, law enforcement officers, and judges who refer clients to the Center have seen the work pay off. They believe in the Center, and the Center works diligently to deliver on that trust.