DOH whistleblower placed on leave

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Another shakeup at the Department of Health, as KHON2 has learned Tuesday that the DOH whistleblower who brought to light the state’s contact tracing program was understaffed, is now on leave.

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Dr. Jennifer Smith went public back in August about the state’s understaffed contact tracing program at the DOH. The Department confirmed her absence Tuesday night but refused to give other details.

Smith’s spokesperson, Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, tells KHON2 she was placed on a 30-day paid leave from the DOH on Friday for accusations of threatening other DOH employees.

“I was contacted by Jennifer in tears when she had received a letter that stated she was being put on administrative leave, and she was escorted out of the Department of Health by a sheriff,” Dr. Miscovich said.

He adds that Dr. Smith was presented with a letter upon notification of her forced leave. Although she denies the accusation, Dr. Miscovich says that she is under whistleblower status as the state is forced to investigate the allegations.

“Josh Green basically took her case to the Attorney General and presented to the Attorney General for whistleblower immunity,” Dr. Miscovich said.

Hawaii U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard helped facilitate Smith’s whistleblowing efforts back in August.

She told KHON2 in a statement Tuesday evening:

“It appears Dr. Jennifer Smith has been punished for telling the people of Hawaii the truth about what was really going on at the Department of Health. After bravely coming forward to expose the lies coming from Drs Anderson and Park that cost people their health and in some cases their lives, she has been forced to take leave. This latest action from Governor Ige and his administration further erodes the public trust. Retaliating against a whistleblower sends a dangerously chilling message to others in our government who are doing the right thing, that they better toe the line or they will be punished. We all deserve better.”

The Hawaii Government Employees Association says it is representing Dr. Smith for any and all due process. Her leave comes after a recent shakeup at the DOH. In the past week Director Dr. Bruce Anderson announced his retirement. Dr. Emily Roberson took a brief leave of absence, and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park is on paid leave.

Miscovich says Dr. Smith’s absence is a blow to the maligned contact tracing efforts at the DOH.

“She’s one of the top contact tracers, and god knows we need contact tracers now in the state of Hawaii,” said Miscovich.

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