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Hawaii Supreme Court denies Kokua Council’s request to intervene in DOH contact tracing

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The Hawaii Supreme Court on Monday denied Kokua Council for Senior Citizens’ petition to compel the Department of Health to increase the number of COVID-19 contact tracers in Hawaii and to require that the agency improve translation services.

The court did not provide a reason for its denial, which was the result of a 3-2 decision.

“While we are disappointed that the Court determined it is without authority to grant the petition, we are hopeful the Department will furnish the information without needing to refile the case in Circuit Court,” Kokua Council attorney Lance D. Collins said in a statement.

Kokua Council said the dissenting justices noted that they would have ordered DOH to answer the petition.

Before filing the Hawaii Supreme Court action, Collins had sent a legal demand asking DOH to publicly state its plan to become compliant with the law: including how many contact tracers are currently employed, how many will be hired and when they will be hired as well as how many bilingual contact tracers or interpreters are currently employed as well as will be hired and when they will be hired.

Gov.David Ige and state Attorney General Clare Connors were copied on the demand letter, which was set to Bruce Anderson, who retired yesterday. Dr. Libby Char, an emergency room physician, takes over today as interim DOH director.

Collins filed a legal petition after DOH missed the demand letter deadline. However, after the filing of the petition, Collins said Deputy Attorney General Diane Taira wrote to him indicating that DOH would provide the requested information.

Kokua Council said it would request the information from Taira before refiling suit in the circuit court.

This case was not the first time that Kokua Council, an advocacy group for senior citizens, had pursued a legal remedy to its issues with DOH. About four years ago, the senior citizens advocacy group successfully sued the DOH because the department was not posting inspection reports of state-licensed care facilities online as had been required by a 2013 law.

Krishna F. Jayaram, special assistant to the State Attorney General, said in a statement,“The Supreme Court denied Kokua Council’s petition for a writ of mandamus without asking for the Department of Health to provide an answer because it was without merit. The Department did not respond to Mr. Collins’s letter by the arbitrary six-day deadline he demanded, but it is currently preparing a response in accordance with applicable law.

“The Department of Health will continue to serve, inform, and protect the community to the best of its ability for the duration of the pandemic,” he said.

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