Gov. Neil Abercrombie asked Dr. Neal Palafox to withdraw his nomination as director of the state Department of Health, but the governor’s staff has declined to publicly disclose the reason.
Palafox withdrew his nomination Wednesday after a month on the job as interim director. Abercrombie’s staff released a statement Wednesday saying only that the governor had accepted the withdrawal and would name a new director as soon as possible.
While the governor’s staff would not discuss the reasons or circumstances surrounding the sudden departure, Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor’s spokeswoman, confirmed last night that it was the governor and not Palafox who asked for the withdrawal.
Palafox has said he was blindsided by the turn of events. He has said he was not aware of a medical reimbursement investigation mentioned in a television news report or any other matter that would have jeopardized his nomination or state Senate confirmation.
The doctor referred questions yesterday to his attorney, Brook Hart.
"He did not volunteer it on his own. He had no idea why the governor asked him to resign. But he did because the governor asked him to do so," Hart said. "He has no information at this point why there’s an investigation, what the investigation is about or even a hint about what it is that somebody is claiming that he did wrong.
"It’s a complete mystery."
A few state senators have questioned whether Palafox was properly vetted before being nominated. Dela Cruz said the doctor went through the same screening process as the governor’s other Cabinet selections.
Before he was nominated by Abercrombie, 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. He is also on the medical staff at Wahiawa General Hospital.