Governor Abercrombie’s nominee to head the State Department of Health, Dr Neal Palafox MD, has suddenly withdrawn his name from consideration. HNN and the Star-Advertiser report that Palafox may be “involved in a medical reimbursement investigation.” Palafox was picked over Senator Josh Green MD of Kona.
Here is the coverage:
HNN: State health director resigns
Sources tell Hawaii News Now that Palafox is involved in a criminal investigation by state Attorney General David Louie into medical reimbursement fraud.
Janice Okubo, the Department of Health communications director, said Palafox is unaware of any criminal investigation and resigned for personal reasons.
A statement from the governor's office Wednesday said Palafox asked to withdraw his nomination for health director and Abercrombie accepted.
SA: Abercrombie's choice for health director withdraws his nomination
Palafox would not explain when asked by reporters exactly why he withdrew but said he was blindsided by the abrupt turn of events. The doctor, responding to a Hawaii News Now report that he was involved in a medical reimbursement investigation, said he had not been aware of any probe into his billing practices or other matters that could have undermined his nomination.
"I was blindsided by this," he said.
In a separate conversation with the Associated Press, he said: "I'm one of these guys who you see what you get, and I'm going, 'I don't know.'" …
State Attorney General David Louie declined to comment when asked whether Palafox is involved in a medical reimbursement investigation.
KITV: Facing An Investigation, Palafox Steps Down
"It's tough to accept that he didn't know. I mean, he resigned. That would suggest that must be something fairly serious," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, (D—Kahaluu, Kahuku), who would have voted whether to confirm Palafox, along with 24 other senators.
Hee said even if Palafox didn't know about the probe, officials at the state Attorney General's office would have known and someone should have told the governor sooner.
"All it shows is that the governor's committee that was doing the interviews should have vetted this individual better. So it's unfortunate," Hee said
Senator Will Espero (D—Ewa Beach, Waipahu) said the Abercrombie administration should have done a better job vetting Palafox.
"One would think that more due diligence could have been done and possibly more direct questions could have been asked and more direct answers could have been given," Espero said.
Espero said he knew something was wrong when Palafox cancelled two meetings over the last two days.
"I thought that was strange was wondering what was going on in that situation," Espero said.
Who WAS doing the vetting? Gaming Industry Lobbyist, Progressive activist screen Abercrombie cabinet picks
Here's an odd denial. AP:
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's office said allegations that he pressured Abercrombie to oust Palafox are false. "Sen. Inouye and his staff stand ready to assist Gov. Abercrombie and his administration in whatever way possible," said Inouye spokesman Peter Boylan.
News Release: Palafox Withdraws Nomination as Health Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 26, 2011
Honolulu – Dr. Neal Palafox today asked Governor Neil Abercrombie to withdraw his nomination for Director of the State Department of Health. Governor Abercrombie accepted Dr. Palafox’s request and will make a new appointment for the Health Director as soon as possible.