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Health director named

Palafox holds top positions at the UH medical school

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Describing the state Department of Health as an agency with "organizational challenges," Gov. Neil Abercrombie yesterday named Dr. Neal Palafox as health director.

Palafox, 58, is chairman of the Department of Family Practice and Community Health at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. He is also the director of the school's Family Practice Residency Program.

Like the woman he replaces, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Palafox is a practicing physician. He is on the active medical staff at Wahiawa General Hospital.

The nomination must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Abercrombie said he expects to name an attorney general, the last major position in his administration, today.

Palafox was born to an immigrant Filipino father and raised in Hawaii, and he attended University High School. He received his medical degree from UH, and earned a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Maryland.

"If there has been any department that's been more under siege in terms of whether or not it could produce what needed to be done, in order to meet the necessities -- the social, economic and political, and otherwise in the state -- it's the Department of Health," Abercrombie said.

Palafox is an administrator, teacher and researcher.

"He is in the field," the governor said. "He understands what the necessities are."

Palafox said, "The big-picture things are the children, the elderly and the people with disparate health care, folks who are poor or economically disadvantaged."

Health officials need to communicate more horizontally and holistically instead of centered around their own areas of expertise, Palafox said.

For a number of years, Palafox lived and worked in the Marshall Islands, including five years as medical director of preventive health services.

Abercrombie also named two deputy health directors and a deputy transportation director.

Loretta Fuddy, who has been chief of the Family Health Services Division in the Health Department, will be DOH's first deputy director. Fuddy, 62, holds a master's degree in social work.

She has served as chairwoman of the Hawaii Public Health Association, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and treasurer and secretary of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs.

"She has this experience and she has this knowledge, and she has this credibility with the public," Abercrombie said.

Former City Councilman Gary Gill is the Health Department's new deputy director for environment. Gill, 50, returns to a position he held under the Cayetano administration. He is currently program director for Blue Planet Foundation.

A former council chairman and one-time candidate for mayor, Gill was also a director for the state Office of Environmental Quality Control and executive director of Hiipaka LLC, which oversees Waimea Valley for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Also named yesterday as deputy director for administration in the Department of Transportation was Jan Sekiya Gouveia. Gouveia, 42, is currently vice president for executive operation at Waimana Enterprises. She is also a former chief legal counsel for the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and she holds both a master's in business administration and a law degree from Gonzaga University.

Gouveia's position is a new one in the Transportation Department. Last week, Abercrombie named Glenn Okimoto as his transportation director, and Randy Grune and Ford Fuchigami as deputy directors in charge of harbors and airports, respectively.

There will not be a deputy director in charge of highways in the Abercrombie administration, as has been traditional. Instead, there will be Gouveia's deputy director for administration post.

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