Who do you want dictating government policy during the COVID-19 pandemic: doctors or government officials? As the state struggles to quickly implement the new lockdown rules, a group of more than 300 Hawai’i physicians and health professionals is demanding that even more stringent steps be taken, and that government officials give Lt. Gov. Josh Green a seat at the decision-making table during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Green, an emergency room doctor and the only physician within the top ranks of state and county officials, reportedly has been shoved aside in the decision-making process for political reasons.
The group includes internists, surgeons, radiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, dentists, and others from hospitals and medical groups on Maui and throughout the state. It has issued a series of letters asking state and local officials, including Mayor Michael Victorino, for increased participation by Green and a more stringent lockdown that only allows residents to go out for two reasons: access to food and medical care.
Maui anesthesiologist Dr. Kai Matthes and dentist Dr. Sonia Gupta spearheaded the campaign and the creation of a website, Hicovid.org. Matthes said that his group had been in contact with Lt. Gov. Green, but that nobody at the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, the governor’s office, or locally on Maui has been “responsive to our letters.”
Where is Josh Green?
In its March 23 letter, the group also “strongly endorsed,” Green “to have a seat at the command table” supported by a “multidisciplinary physician taskforce” to help guide the state through the health crisis.
Green, an emergency room doctor, seemed the natural choice when Gov. Ige announced in early March that Green would lead Hawaiʻi’s response to COVID-19 as the liaison between the administration and health care community.
But there have been indications of a schism between the governor and Green in recent days. Green appeared on national television Saturday morning to say that an “order” was coming to prevent anyone except residents and medical personnel from flying to Hawai’i. His statements were proven incorrect the next day when Gov. Ige announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all passengers arriving in Hawaiʻi. When asked about the discrepancy, an Ige spokeswoman said, “The Governor speaks for the state.”
Ige told MauiTime during Monday’s press conference that Lt. Gov. Green’s job as the state’s “coronavirus liaison” had changed since the federal government proclaimed a national emergency. At that point, “Kenneth Hara assumed incident command and the entire disaster preparedness structure went into effect,” Ige said, adding that “all the partners” involved now coordinate through Hara.”
“I am still in communication with [Green],” Hara said, “but I’m also getting most of my recommendation and advice from…Hawaiʻi Department of Health and healthcare associations.”
Tuesday, the Honolulu-based news site Civil Beat reported that Green had been banned from participating in Hawaiʻi’s pandemic response and had been told to leave press conferences held by Gov. David Ige and state health department officials. Green has criticized Hawaiʻi’s slowness to act and the state’s minimal testing program.
In a statement sent to MauiTime Tuesday, Green said, “All I care about right now is slowing the virus and saving lives. I was working on healthcare crises in Hawaiʻi as a National Health Corps scholar, an ER doctor, a representative, and as a senator before David Ige became governor and I will be working on them long after he leaves office.”
Green said that his past recommendations regarding the halting of cruise ship docking in Hawaiian ports, stopping tourist travel and increasing testing statewide “have been made to prevent fatalities. It would be hard for me to believe that any Governor would remove their colleague from important responsibilities for doing that.”
Ige’s office issued a statement Tuesday night denying that Green had been banned, only that new social distancing rules mandated only bringing in “those who are most directly involved with specific topics being discussed at meetings and press conferences.”
Maui Hospital “Perfectly Fine” with Supplies
The doctors’ group’s March 23 letter emphasized the importance of more widespread testing and pointed out that social distancing rules are “unnecessarily complicated” and that the current emergency rules are hard for the public to understand. “This leads to confusion and non-compliance which puts the entire community at risk.”
Another prominent concern is the potential shortage of personal protective equipment “at our hospitals and at the front lines” when COVID-19 cases increase.
Matthes said the lack of response to his group’s letters has been “disappointing. When it comes to more patients with COVID-19 needing care in the hospital, we will need to take extra shifts and potentially work with minimal PPEs if there is a shortage. This may put our lives, and those of our families, at risk. It doesn’t seem fair to not listen to our medical community, but then ask us for help when it is too late.”
“We have a lot of people on staff who are overreacting,” Maui Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Paulson said Monday when asked about the doctors’ group’s concerns. “We are perfectly fine” with PPE supplies. “However, we do understand the community’s desire to assist, so we are collecting donations.” Her response differed somewhat from Queen’s Hospital on Oʻahu, which put out a public call Tuesday for goggles, face shields, masks, and gowns.
MauiTime asked Gov. David Ige about the group’s concerns during his press conference on Monday. He responded, “We do know that there are needs for our physicians and those healthcare providers on the front line. We continue to work with various organizations to identify those needs and ensure that we can make personal protective equipment available.”
Victorino did not respond to a query about the doctors’ letter. When asked about Matthes’ assertions, Maui County District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang responded, “I sure have been talking to doctors on Maui. Tell them to call me and I’ll see what I can do.”
Gov. David Ige issued a terse statement regarding Green at his news conference Wednesday.
“I would like to address an issue that many have been calling my office to inquire about,” Ige said at the beginning of the news conference. “Lieutenant Governor Josh Green is still the healthcare liaison at the state of Hawaii. Nothing has changed since he’s being appointed to that role.”
“The Lieutenant governor is charged with evaluating the medical community’s readiness to deliver care to individuals who test positive for COVID 19, evaluating Hawaii’s current equipment supply–including personal protective equipment and ventilators that are so crucial in providing care–coordinating efforts to secure more as needed, and allocating for funding at state and federal levels.”
Ige said he would welcome advice from Green “as well as anyone else who has recommendations on how we protect our community. However, as governor I develop my health policies related to COVID-19 with the advice and guidance from national experts from the CDC, the Hawaii Department of Health and Dr. Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park. Both doctors Anderson and Park are trained epidemiologists whose careers have been devoted to the study of preventing epidemics.”