Whistleblower who exposed COVID-19 missteps at DOH faces ‘retaliation,’ supporters say

Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 5:09 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There’s been a bizarre twist in the case of a Health Department whistleblower who is on leave after shining light on serious issues with the agency’s COVID-19 response.

Dr. Jennifer Smith, who came forward to tell state senators and the public that DOH had been untruthful about its contact tracing capabilities while cases were exploding on Oahu, was asked to go on leave Friday.

Smith could not be reached independently on Wednesday.

But she is speaking to others about the situation.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, a COVID-19 testing expert and critic of the state Health Department, said Smith was forced into a leave of absence after being accused of threatening violence with guns. Miscovich made the comments Tuesday night on the Facebook page of Kauai County investigator Mel Rapozo.

He said he got a call from Smith as she was being escorted from the Health Department building by a state deputy sheriff. She was crying and bewildered as to her reason for being forced out, he said.

“Eventually they gave her a letter, which I do have a copy of, which is saying like she she was threatening someone with guns or something. She doesn’t have guns. It was just saying that a couple of nameless people were saying that she was threatening violence against them,” Miscovich said.

He called the situation "classic whistleblower retaliation.”

The Health Department has declined to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Smith’s leave. In a statement, a spokeswoman said Smith is “on a leave of absence ... and out of the office.”

HGEA, the union that represents Smith, said it is looking into the case.

Smith is an investigator in the state disease Outbreak Control Division, who also appeared on camera when state senators conducted an unannounced visit at the Department of Health last month.

During that visit, she told lawmakers that she had so many cases to investigate that she was forced to prioritize them and only call people who were older than 65.

Shortly after she came forward, contradicting claims by the governor and department, Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson abruptly announced his retirement and the state made a renewed commitment to immediately hire hundreds of additional contact tracers as well as many more investigators.

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