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Abercrombie's choice for health director withdraws his nomination

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 6:47 p.m. HST, Jan 26, 2011

Neal Palafox, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's choice for director of the state Department of Health, withdrew his nomination today.

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.'"

Abercrombie's staff said the governor accepted Palafox's withdrawal and would make a new appointment for health director as soon as possible. The governor's staff would not comment on the reasons for Palafox's departure after a month on the job as interim director.

State Attorney General David Louie declined to comment when asked whether Palafox is involved in a medical reimbursement investigation.

Palafox, 58, was a professor and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and the former director of the family practice residency program.

Dean Jerris Hedges, of the UH medical school, said the school has been notified that Palafox has withdrawn his nomination and would return to his position. 

"We are unaware of the reasons behind his decision; nor are we aware of any pending investigation as reported by the news media," he said in a statement.

Palafox's nomination was subject to Senate confirmation. A confirmation hearing had not been scheduled.

Earlier this month, Palafox, the father of six children, said he wanted to focus on healthy lifestyles and disease prevention as health director.

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