Embattled health and public safety directors stepping down

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Gov. David Ige announced on Aug. 31 that State Department of Health (DOH) Director Bruce Anderson and Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda are retiring. Both have been widely criticized for their handling of the COVID pandemic.

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Lt. Gov. Josh Green has been one of the more vocal critics of Anderson. He says he’s looking forward to working with Anderson’s replacement and points out the main players of the Emergency Management team such as himself, Gen. Kenneth Hara, and Attorney General Clare Connors are still on board.

“So there’s full continuity, but these are some significant changes and think of it as fresh blood coming off the bench, you know, and that’s almost always a good thing,” said Green.

Anderson and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park were widely criticized for not building the state’s capacity for COVID testing and contact tracing. Green says he’s confident that Dr. Libby Char, who will be the DOH interim director starting September 16, will move forward with the goal of doing 10,000 tests daily and having up to 500 contact tracers.

“We spoke even this morning already, because we definitely need to get many of these programs going on steroids. And so I’m sure she’ll hit the ground running. She is an excellent physician leader,” said Green.

Despite the criticism, Ige says he has not lost confidence in both outgoing directors, and he’s already addressing the problems that have been raised.

“We have brought on additional staff and we’re in the process of structuring the response in that area,” said Ige.

Some lawmakers say Char will only be successful in helping the state reach its goal if the governor and his staff give her the support she needs.

“A lot of times, some of these decisions were stuck in the chief of staff’s or the governor’s court, and we really need to be a lot more proactive and responsive,” Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said .

As for Espinda, Sen. Clarence Nishihara released a statement saying, “From the beginning, Director Espinda and the Department were slow to implement proper safety protocols, such as testing for inmates and staff. Serious issues such as lack of personal protective equipment and unsafe conditions for uninfected inmates were never appropriately addressed by Director Espinda.”
An interim director has not been named.

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