DOH calls senators’ visit ‘showmanship,’ but lawmakers say they’re ready to help

Updated: Aug. 11, 2020 at 8:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Days after getting a firsthand look at how the Health Department has fallen behind in its contact tracing efforts, a legislative committee reached out to the agency to make clear it is willing to offer any resources available.

The offer of help comes after Gov. David Ige and Health Director Bruce Anderson complained about the senators’ unannounced visit to the Health Department’s offices last week ― a visit lawmakers say was needed to underscore just how overwhelmed the agency is at it responds to a COVID-19 surge.

In a letter to HNN this week, Anderson called the visit “blatant political showmanship.”

State Senate President Ron Kouchi disagreed with that characterization, but added that legislators are ready to work with the state to find solutions.

[Read more: During unannounced visit, senators find a health department overwhelmed by COVID-19 surge]

“We’re here talking about saving lives, not about political grandstanding and trying to make points at the expense of someone else,” Kouchi said.

“I cannot stress enough our primary goal is to make sure the people here in Hawaii are safe.”

Late last week, the state Senate COVID-19 Committee visited Health Department offices to talk with swamped contact tracers and witnessed how DOH is short on staff, equipment and space.

Senators say they can assist with all those needs.

They’ve even invited DOH staff to use space in the Senate chambers and Capitol conference rooms, and encouraged a move to the Hawaii Convention Center, which still has work stations set up to handle a previous huge increase in unemployment claims.

“For at least a month, we’d have some space available if space was an issue and if we needed to reach out to our employees to find out who might be available, just as we responded to the call for help at unemployment insurance, we stand ready to assist,” Kouchi said.

As cases of coronavirus have spiked, so has criticism of DOH.

But in his meetings with the governor, Kouchi says he hasn’t discussed changes in leadership.

“The last thing I said to him is let’s get everybody in the room, come up with a plan to go forward,” Kouchi said. “Looking back isn’t going to do us any good anymore.”

As for when all interested parties will be meeting, Kouchi says there is no set date. But he is in regular contact with the coronavirus committee and the Governor’s Office. The Health Department says they are reviewing the Senate’s offer to provide resources and thanked senators for their support.

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