HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige announced Dept. of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson and Dept. of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda will retire in September.
“Both directors have served admirably under extremely challenging conditions, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thank them for their many years of service to the people of Hawai‘i and wish them well as they retire and are able to spend time with their families,” Ige said in a press release.
“It has been an honor and pleasure to serve as Director under Gov. Ige, with Nolan and my other fellow cabinet members. In my retirement, I look forward to doing a lot more fishing and horseback riding with my wife, Debbie,” Anderson said.
Ige has appointed Dr. Libby Char to serve as interim director of the Dept. of Health effective Sept. 16, with Anderson’s retirement effective Sept. 15, after 35 years of experience managing health and environmental programs in Hawai‘i, including serving as the as director of the department under two governors.
Char is an emergency physician and graduate of the University of Hawai‘i, John A. Burns School of Medicine. After completing residency training in California, she returned to Hawai‘i to the clinical practice of emergency medicine at The Queen’s Medical Center. She provided administrative oversight for the City and County of Honolulu EMS system for many years.
Char currently focuses her efforts on developing systems of care, training, protocols and emergency response utilizing best practices in the pre-hospital environment. She provides medical direction for several EMS, Fire, and Ocean Safety agencies across the state of Hawai‘i and is the current chair of the State of Hawai‘i EMS Advisory Committee.
“Dr. Char brings experience in medicine and administration to the department during a time of great stress on the state’s healthcare system. I’m confident that she will step into the role with energy and passion for ensuring the health of Hawai‘i’s people,” Ige said.
“I am honored to fill the position of Director of Health for the State of Hawai‘i. We are in a difficult position, with a heavy burden of COVID-19 affecting the health, well-being and livelihood of so many of us. We must move forward together, through collaborative efforts, caring for each other with a shared sense of purpose. In doing so, we will regain the health of our communities and our state,” Char said.
Her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Senator Rosalyn Baker, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health thanked Anderson for his service and welcomed’s Char’s appointment.
“The Department of Health needs a leader that has the ability to effectively guide our critical public health initiatives going forward and I’m confident that the Governor made the right decision in choosing Dr. Libby Char to lead the department at this critical juncture as its interim director,” Baker said. “Dr. Char understands the importance of collaboration, funding of essential services, and the necessity to maintain our critical healthcare infrastructure throughout the entire state. She also has the experience needed to help hospitals, care facilities and community health centers work together to carry out the State’s COVID-19 response efforts.”
Dir. Espinda’s retirement is effective Oct. 1.
The change was welcomed by some in congress.
“Like many across the State, I too have lost faith in DPS and its leadership team’s ability to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our prison system. From the beginning, Director Espinda and the department were slow to implement proper safety protocols, such as testing for inmates and staff,” Senator Clarence Nishihara, Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs stated in a press release. “Serious issues such as lack of personal protective equipment and unsafe conditions for uninfected inmates were never appropriately addressed by Director Espinda.”
“This lack of leadership and inability to guide the department through this pandemic has put us in the difficult situation that we find ourselves in today,” Nishihara continued. “As chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, I welcome the opportunity to work with Governor Ige in finding someone who has the qualifications and leadership ability to guide the Department of Public Safety moving forward.”
Ige announced that Maria Cook, the deputy director for administration will be temporarily assigned and has been granted signatory authority while Espinda is on personal leave through September. The deputy directors for law enforcement and corrections will continue in their capacities to oversee their division operations.
Espinda will be available to provide advice remotely in the interim should the need arise.
Ige will announce an interim appointment to lead the department in the coming weeks.