Shake-up in DOH leadership continues amid global pandemic


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Late Thursday afternoon, Sept. 3, the Hawaii State Department of Health confirmed Dr. Sarah Park will be taking a paid leave of absence from her position, Park’s decision comes after officials have called for her to step down from her duties.

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The department did not make it clear when Dr. Sarah Park plans to return. House Speaker Scott Saiki said this is the time to set leadership in place that is capable of combating the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s not surprising because there was a need for a change,” Saiki said. “It is unfortunate that a decision like this is made in public but this gives the governor the opportunity to reset the department of health and make sure there’s someone in charge.”

State leadership has called for more transparency in contact tracing. Senator Donovan Dela Cruz said members of the legislature had to show up to see for themselves how many people are working to trace the movement of the virus.

Dela Cruz said, “When we went to go and investigate, those numbers of contact tracers that were presented were simply not there.”

Park was no longer the lead in the state’s contract tracing efforts, Dr. Emily Roberson from Hawaii Pacific University was tapped by the governor to step-up.

However, Roberson lasted just weeks before she also requested a leave from the role after citing issues with the chain of command that prevented her from carrying-on with her duties.

But that chain of command is now changing.

Health Department Director Bruce Anderson announced his retirement for September 15 on Monday.

The changes in top DOH officials are raising concerns among local officials, such as Puna Councilmember Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, who said this is happening during a critical time in the Big Island when it is seeing more COVID-19 cases and at least five deaths among its kupuna.

“People are dying and businesses are dying and the directors of departments are retiring in the middle of that, that is cause for concern,” Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder said. “What’s important to know, is that it’s really going to be to each municipality to be proactive in how we approach, how we track, how we trace.”

Deputy Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu will lead all disease investigations and immunization activities during Park’s leave.

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