The Hawaii Department of Health denies a report by the state auditor that health officials failed to provide timely information about the coronavirus contact tracing program.
The report released on Wednesday said the auditor’s office “encountered obstacles and delays and was ultimately denied access to those responsible for managing the department’s contact tracing.”
The report states that Health Director Bruce Anderson spoke to accountants but did not answer specific contact tracing questions and forwarded those requests to other health department heads, including state epidemiologist Sarah Park, who was overseeing the contact tracing program at the time.
The Associated Press reported the auditor’s findings on Thursday. Health Department comments went unanswered, but a written statement was issued on Friday.
“The Hawaii Department of Health recognizes that transparency and accountability are critical to maintaining confidence in our actions,” the statement said. “We agree with the auditor that the public deserves accurate and honest communication, especially in times of crisis.”
The statement went on to say that the auditor’s claim that there was a lack of cooperation was not true.
“Staff have tried to accommodate the auditor’s very short timeframe for interviews, although these staff are weighing a number of requests in addition to their pandemic response obligations. While we couldn’t schedule interviews immediately based on the auditor’s timeline, we only asked for them to be postponed, ”the statement said.
At one point, the report said, a meeting was scheduled with the head of the disease screening department. The agency was instructed to include the attorney general in emails regarding the meeting and at the last minute the meeting was canceled. The governor’s office then claimed that the meeting could not continue.
“While we understand that DOH’s staff are busy, especially those working to improve the department’s contact tracing approach, we expected the department to work together fully and in a timely manner,” the report said. “We did not expect the attorney general or the governor’s office to participate in our attempt to report on DOH’s approach to contact tracing.”
On Friday, the attorney general’s office sent a statement saying they “attended because we believed the auditor was conducting his activities at the request of the Senate’s COVID committee. And because the Attorney General was involved in coordinating this committee, it made sense to attend. “
In addition, the report said that despite multiple inquiries, the Ministry of Health has failed to publish any documents regarding its contact tracing policies and procedures. No requested documents were addressed in the Health Department statement and no immediate response was given when asked if they had sent documents by Friday.
Chartered accountant Les Kondo said Friday his office was never given the opportunity to speak to Park, who was in charge of the contact tracing program. Earlier this month, the Department of Health hired a new official to lead the program after calling for Park to be removed.
He also said no documents have yet been given.
“I can confirm that we did not receive any of the documents we requested from the Department of Health or any other information from the department regarding our attempt to report on DOH’s approach to contact tracing,” he said in an email Mail. “The department recognized the urgency of our inquiries and our intent to provide clear, consistent, timely and objective information about contact tracing.”