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Answers sought on Palafox issue

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State Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom has urged Gov. Neil Abercrombie to provide additional information regarding the governor’s decision to ask Dr. Neal Palafox to withdraw his nomination as director of the state Department of Health.

Abercrombie asked Palafox to withdraw his nomination in January but has not disclosed the reason. A television news report, citing unnamed sources, said Palafox was involved in a medical reimbursement investigation.

In a letter to Abercrombie on Friday, Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said he has spoken with federal sources that say Palafox is not under investigation. The senator had no information about a potential state investigation, and the state Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment on Palafox.

Palafox has said he was not aware of any investigation.

"If he is indeed innocent, let’s clear this matter up and allow the Senate to consider him for the position," Slom wrote. "The Health Department has a number of problems and strong leadership is required."

Asked Tuesday whether he thought Palafox was treated fairly, Slom said: "No, I don’t. From what I know now? No, I don’t."

Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie, declined to comment. The governor is still searching for a replacement for Palafox.

Palafox, meanwhile, has returned to his post as chairman of family medicine and community health at the University of Hawaii-Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Tina Shelton, a spokeswoman for the medical school, said the school’s dean, Dr. Jerris Hedges, spoke with Palafox and found no reason not to allow him to return to his post. Palafox had taken a leave of absence from the school while he was pursuing the nomination.

"The dean has spoken with Neal and his associates and none of them have been able to identify what the concerns might be," Shelton said.

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