Lawmakers want Gen. Hara to take the lead on contact tracing


HONOLULU (KHON2) — There are renewed calls for the governor to make more changes at the Department of Health (DOH) after recently hired Dr. Emily Roberson took an abrupt leave of absence. Some lawmakers are proposing that it might be time for another agency to take the lead on contact tracing.

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Dr. Roberson took over contact tracing from Dr. Sarah Park less than a month ago, and then took a leave of absence on Sept. 2 after complaining of problems with the chain of command within the DOH. Lawmakers say they are frustrated that the state’s efforts to ramp up contact tracing are once again hampered.

“I can only surmise by the actions of Dr. Roberson that there is still interference from Dr. Park, and if that is true it would seem that she is insubordinate,” said Senate President Ron Kouchi.

So senators want the governor to put Gen. Kenneth Hara in charge. As head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, he put together a call center for contact tracers at the Hawaii Convention Center.

“It’s proof that HIEMA can handle the job because they were able to build up the contact tracing call center in a matter of days and that’s the kind of response that we need,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.

He says Dr. Roberson will still be in charge of contact tracing duties, but should report directly to Gen. Hara and not anyone else at DOH.

“There’s a lot of miscommunication between the departments, lots of confusion of who’s making the call to what decisions. So some of the decisions are not being made, so we just have to have a clear chain of command,” said Dela Cruz.

Senators can only ask the governor to make these changes, and they say it is clear that something has to be done.

“At the end of the day he’s the boss and the buck stops on his desk. I’ve heard him say in the press conference clearly what he wants to have happen. Now he needs to make sure his orders are carried out,” said Kouchi.

Kouchi points out that with 212 contact tracers statewide, we are still barely halfway to the goal of reaching more than 500.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because the National Guard has offered their personnel since March, I have started raising the issue since April,” he said.

KHON2 reached out to the governor and the DOH, a spokeswoman says she cannot comment on personnel matters.

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