Secondary Menu

In the News

Investigator prevented from pursing criminal cases against companies scamming Hawaii's elderly and visitors

PHOCUSED Press - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 13:34

Aquilino "Aku" Idao, Supervisory Investigator State of Hawaii-DCCA-OCP

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — Some Hawaii companies are taking advantage of visitors and elderly residents, but state officials are thwarting attempts to investigate, a supervisor with the state Department of Commerce says.

Aquilino “Aku” Idao, of the department’s Consumer Affairs’ office, has filed a complaint with two state Senate committee chairman.

Idao, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said he is charged with pursuing criminal cases against companies and their owners who violate state law.

His supervisors have prevented him from pursuing criminal action no matter how egregious, he says.

Idao cites a case in which Shane’s Appliance, since 2008, has been targeted with 60 complaints from residents, mainly senior citizens, “for unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The company has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Timothy Caminos, Director of Communications & Public Relations at the Better Business, confirmed Shane’s Appliance has had a pattern of complaints dating back to late 2010 that are also on record with that consumer watchdog agency.

“Complaints allege that the business takes payment for appliance repair upfront - generally 100 percent - and does not perform the work,” Caminos said.

In September of 2011 there was a Court action that required Shane’s Appliance to pay restitution.

“Leading up to and during the time of their court case the complaints stopped. Within a few months of the judgment being handed down complaints resumed describing the same pattern of complaints prior to the court action. Thirteen complaints have come in over the last three months,” Caminos said.

Idao began working for the Office of Consumer Protection in 2012 and began investigating the company, though his supervisors prevented him from pursuing criminal charges.

“I was counseled and written up by the executive director, and I was ordered to cease any criminal investigations. This action resulted in several more elderly complainants being victimized,” Idao said.

In another case, Idao found several file drawers of consumer complaints filed against a Hawaii business offering “time share vacations.”

The company, which went under several aliases, but primarily is known as Just Dreams LLC of Maui and Honolulu, had 145 filed complaints against them.

“There are hundreds of unreported victims and the losses have surpassed $1 million, as just $900,000 was identified as flowing from one business account in just one year,” he wrote to the Senate chairs.

The Better Business Bureau is also quite familiar with Just Dreams, parent company to Paradise Blue and Destination Paradise.

Both subsidiaries are no longer actively selling products, however it appears that one of them exists in a support function to the parent company, Caminos said.

“Pattern of complaints against company allege that consumers are shown a demo on how to obtain 5 star inexpensive vacations, but company fails to deliver results that are made during the presentation,” Caminos said.

“Consumers are given a cancelation period but the products do not arrive until after the cancelation period has passed. Unfortunately for consumers – they are normally signing a contract or agreement, which are generally binding so if a complaint is received the company usually has a signed agreement or contact from the consumer with the terms of the sale. This is one of those instances where consumers need to be really clear about what they are signing,” Caminos said.

Brent Suyama, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said the department would not disclose its policy regarding whether it allows its investigators to pursue criminal cases.

As to Idao’s case, Suyama said the department cannot comment on personnel matters, however he can confirm the matter is under review by the director’s office.

Idao has worked with several law enforcement agencies in various positions over the past two decades, including as a conservation enforcement officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a supervisory investigator for the Honolulu city prosecutor’s office, a special investigator for the state Department of Human Services, a special investigator for the state attorney general’s office, a criminal investigator for the Hawaii County prosecutor, an investigator with Pinkerton Government Services in Manhattan and as a Hawaii County police officer.

In addition to informing key senators about his concerns, Idao has filed complaints with his union, the state’s labor relations board and with the state attorney general’s office.

Senate Public Safety Chair Will Espero, D-Ewa, one of the Senate recipients, said he would review Idao’s complaint and determine whether to take it to the Legislature.

Categories: In the News

Election Advice

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 19:21

Panos Prevedouros, professor of engineering at the University of Hawaii

BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD - I hardly ever give election advice.  You, my readers, mostly independent and almost evenly split Democrat and Republican have your opinions.  So I just offer some brief comments.

For governor my choice is between Duke Aiona and David Ige.  Duke was a judge and he’s trustworthy. He’s pro small business of which Hawaii has plenty. David is an engineer with a keen knowledge of the state budget.  He has a good working relation with Hawaii’s one-sided Legislature. Both have a grasp of Hawaii’s problems and what a governor can do about them.  I think Hawaii will do OK with either of them.

Both Duke and David appear to be calm and collected enough to weather a major storm. It’s almost certain that the next economic recession will occur in the coming four years and it won’t be mild. Hawaii’s fragile economy will be clobbered by pension and EUTF liabilities, by Obamacare cost increases and by military cuts; and by the constant parasitic impacts of rail’s construction and tax.

My advice to the next Governor: Take the time to focus on transportation and energy.  The renewable mandates make Hawaii more affordable and the mothballed interisland cable is yet another boondoggle; it costs more than the funds needed to mitigate Oahu’s dependency on oil! Rail won’t do anything for traffic congestion, not upon opening (when?) not ever.  Do get serious about tackling the mounting traffic congestion. Upgrade the Honolulu Airport, now ranked 3rd worst in the nation: Fully enclose and air condition all terminals, expand and improve the passport control area, and electrify the Wiki-Wiki asap. Promise to work on these and you’ll get my vote.

I definitely know who to vote for Congress.  Both Charles Djou and Mark Takai are smart, decent and knowledgeable candidates. I think Charles has better answers to important issues for Hawaii. The important question is this: What’s the right choice for Hawaii in the U.S. Congress? Answer: A Republican. Luckily, we have a highly competent moderate Republican candidate.

Hawaii’s congressional seniority has dropped from stellar to minimal.  In a Republican controlled Senate and House, sending four Democrats is stupid, plain and simple. We’ve already been pushed to the back burner; next we’ll be permanently delegated to the pantry.  Charles has congressional seniority and will be positioned in the right side of the aisle. It’s a strategic move to Hawaii’s advantage.

I wish that we finally elect some (centrist) energetic people who will own the mess of state and national debt which jeopardizes the long-term well-being of our state:

Five states with Highest Liability per Taxpayer. Hawaii is in the top-5, of course.

Government Debt per Person. The U.S. has a larger debt per capita than Greece!

The New York Times on Los Angeles' Infrastructure Woes. And an astute commentator wrote: “Can't repair the pipes; can't repair the sidewalks; can't repair the roads. But come hell or high water (pun intended) LA is going to find many tens of $billions for toy trains. Lala Land is no misnomer.”

Honolulu does the same. Is it then Honolala Land?

Categories: In the News

Hawaii students get gift cards to participate in sex education program

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 00:33

NOT THE THREE R’S: McDermott holds up a copy of notes from an 11-year-old student enrolled in the sex education classes in the state’s public schools. (file photo)

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU – The University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies gives gift cards to middle school students who participate in a controversial sex education program.

The gift cards, valued at between $10 and $20 each, are issued to 11, 12 and 13-year-olds who participate in Pono Choices. About $52,200 of a $5 million U.S. Office of Adolescent Health grant were used to buy the cards.

“The Pono Choices program provides gift cards to students, who have taken the course, as an incentive to complete student surveys. Student opinion is the most powerful measure in the effectiveness of the program and we support the efforts in seeking such feedback,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Department of Education.

The curriculum, developed by the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, set off a firestorm over the past year. Some parents and lawmakers said the program, which taught children as young as age 11 about anal and homosexual sex, was inaccurate and inappropriate.

Rep. Bob McDermott, R-Aiea, who has a 12-year-old son in public school, led the charge to pressure the state Board of Education to pull the curriculum. He accused the DOE of “normalizing homosexual lifestyles” and “putting students at risk by withholding critical facts.”

After pressure from McDermott and the public, the DOE pulled the curriculum and formed a task force to review concerns. The task force released 11 new recommendations on June 6 and stopped the implementation of the program until developers addressed the concerns and inaccuracies. The program was reinstated over the summer.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, the University of Hawaii receives annual funding of just under $1 million a year for five years for the Pono Choices program “to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and incidence of STIs; increase positive bonding in the school and community; increase sense of self-identity and self-efficacy; and improve expectations for the future.”

McDermott, who has highlighted the most controversial and medically inaccurate parts of the curriculum and called for the program to be shut down, said the gift cards are a waste of taxpayer money.

The gift cards render the data collected through Pono Choices meaningless, McDermott said, “because of an inherent bias caused by the financial inducement.”

“This is a shameless manipulation of the data – giving 11-year-old kids a $10 dollar gift card, and then asking them how they liked the program,” McDermott said. “Hawaii's parents are in the unique situation of having their own tax dollars used to propagandize the ‘value’ of this deceptive intrusion into their public schools, to ‘sell’ them on a program they didn't ask for and don't want. Paying to be brainwashed so you will consent to pay more to have your children brainwashed is not a good use of tax dollars.”

McDermott said families were told Pono Choices was a “new curriculum” being tested or a “pilot project,” but were never told their students were participating in a research project.

“Their kids were being used as human subjects for research. This is a horrible breach of trust between the DOE and the owners of the system, the parents,” McDermott said.

Categories: In the News

Obama Calls for Better Protocol in US Ebola Cases

PHOCUSED Press - Sun, 10/12/2014 - 20:15

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks to residents on the street of the apartment of a hospital worker in Dallas, Oct. 12, 2014.

VOA News - President Barack Obama called for immediate steps to ensure the U.S. medical system is ready to follow the proper protocol for treating Ebola patients.

Obama spoke Sunday with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell about the first case of Ebola transmission in the United States.

Obama ordered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quickly investigate how a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital contracted the virus.

The nurse was part of the team treating the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States, Thomas Duncan, who died last week.

Texas officials say the health worker wore full protective gear and complied with CDC guidelines when she had contact with Duncan.

Breach of protocol

CDC Director Tom Frieden said the fact the worker was infected with Ebola shows there was a breach of protocol.

Frieden said, at this time, it appears only one person may have had contact with the health care worker while she may have been infectious. However, the case in Texas indicated a professional lapse that may have caused other health workers at the hospital to also be infected, he added.

Initial testing showed that the level of virus in the worker's system is low. The CDC will conduct a secondary test to confirm the results from a lab in Austin that showed Ebola infection, he said.

“Unfortunately it is possible in the coming days that we will see additional cases of Ebola,” Frieden added.

A union for registered nurses said the Texas health care worker's case in Dallas showed that not enough is being done to educate health workers on how to manage patients who show signs of infection.

“Handing out a piece of paper with a link to the Centers for Disease Control, or telling nurses just to look at the CDC website - as we have heard some hospitals are doing - is not preparedness,” said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and senior official with National Nurses United.

Meanwhile, in Spain, authorities said a woman in Madrid infected with Ebola remains in serious condition, but is showing signs of slight improvement and that the level of virus in her blood is decreasing.

The new U.S. case comes as several airports begin a stepped-up program to screen passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where thousands of people have died from the virus.

Authorities at New York's JFK International Airport are taking passengers' temperatures and asking them questions to determine whether they may have come into contact with an infected person.

The enhanced screening will expand to four other airports Thursday, including the Newark airport in New Jersey, Washington's Dulles Airport, Chicago's O'Hare and the international airport in Atlanta.

Airport screenings

Together, the five airports receive more than 90 percent of all travelers entering the United States from the three worst-affected West African countries.

Britain is also introducing Ebola screening at certain airports and train stations.

The World Health Organization says the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed at least 4,000 people with about 8,400 reported cases.

Outside of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, eight people died in Nigeria and one patient died in the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

Categories: In the News

New director takes over Hawaii’s troubled Obamacare exchange

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 10/08/2014 - 09:22

HONOLULU – Hawaii’s troubled Obamacare exchange has a new executive director, and he’ll have a mess to sort out to earn his $150,000 annual salary.

Jeffrey Kissel, president and chief executive officer of HawaiiGAS, replaces Hawaii Health Connector Interim Executive Director Tom Matsuda. He will be the third leader of the state insurance exchange in less than a year.

The Connector’s board said in a statement Kissel has “a proven track record of leading successful organizations.”

But Kissel has no experience in the medical or insurance fields. He was president and CEO of HawaiiGAS, served in senior roles at URS, an engineering and construction company, and worked in other business organizations.

However, Hawaii Health Connector board chairman Clifford Alakai said he believes Kissel is the “ideal person to lead the Connector forward for the long-term.”

“His prior experience leading prominent and successful companies, as well as his drive and enthusiasm, will serve the Connector well to secure affordable health coverage for the residents of Hawaii,” said Alakai.

Kissel said he believes everyone deserves to have health insurance coverage, and the Hawaii Health Connector is “a highly viable resource for reasonably priced, high-quality health care.”

However, he inherits a number of financial, political and managerial challenges.

The state received $204 million from the federal government to establish the Connector and build a web portal, but that funding largely expires at the end of 2014.

During its past session, the Hawaii Legislature only allocated $1.5 million in funding for the insurance exchange, a fraction of what was requested.

The Connector’s website, which CGI Corp. developed and maintains for $74 million, still is not functioning properly nearly a year after it launched.

Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s largest health insurer, recently announced it won’t participate in the Connector’s Small Business Health Options Program as of January. The Connector, already under fire for being the most costly exchange in the nation, is left with just one insurance company for local small business owners to select — Kaiser Permanente.

The decision by HMSA came after it spent 8,000 hours dealing with the exchange’s technical problems, which drained finances and staffing resources, and information on 133 patient accounts vanished as they were transferred from the connector to HMSA.

HMSA will continue to insure another 5,000 people enrolled through the individual subscriber portion of the Connector.

Kissel will have to find new ways to keep the exchange financially viable with considerably less government funding.

The Connector is supposed to be funded through enrollment fees charged to local insurers, but the number of enrollees fell far short of the original business plan.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie hoped hundreds of thousands of people would register with the exchange. State officials initially estimated as many as 300,000 people would sign up for health insurance. But the last public estimate included 10,800 people who enrolled, costing about $18,888 per enrollee for taxpayers.

The exchange has hardly reduced Hawaii’s uninsured population. The state’s uninsured rate is about 6 percent, dropping just 2 percent since the exchange launched last year.

There is also a quiet political war under way that Kissel will now be in the middle of.

The Hawaii Health Connector board of directors wants the nonprofit to remain independent and financially separate from the state, as the exchange is set up to be.

However, state administration wants the state Department of Human Services — and some key lawmakers — to take over the Connector.

A pricey bureaucracy in place includes well-paid executives at the top of the Connector. Some half dozen people reportedly earn more than Kissel will.

As the exchange reaches its one-year anniversary, open enrollment for the exchange starts Nov. 15, and Kissel said he is “looking forward to hitting the ground running.

Categories: In the News

US Ebola case: 80 monitored in Dallas

PHOCUSED Press - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 06:51
Health officials are monitoring not only the people the Dallas Ebola patient had contact with while he was contagious and not isolated, but also dozens of people that they subsequently contacted, Dallas County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erikka Neroes said.
Categories: In the News

Hawaii will go bust by 2016, Senate minority leader says

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:49

Photo: Emily Metcalf

HONOLULU — Hawaii Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom is warning fellow lawmakers he has serious concerns about the state’s economic future.

Slom, the only Republican in the 25-member Senate, cites the Council on Revenues’ recent downgraded economic forecast indicating Hawaii is in a much worse financial position than anticipated.

“Hawaii is set to go bust in 2016 unless the new governor and the state Legislature make some serious cuts,” Slom said.

The administration and Legislature will be challenged, Slom said, “in dealing with the mess resulting from kicking the can down the road for so many years.”

“The final option to deal with the problem by raising taxes is the least desirable and burdensome for the people because we are already one of the highest taxing states in the nation,” Slom said.

The state Council on Revenues, the appointed body that predicts economic trends in Hawaii from which lawmakers create their budget, lowered its projections for state general fund revenue on Sept. 4 for fiscal year 2014 from -0.4 percent to -1.8 percent, or a loss of $76 million in anticipated general fund revenue.

The Council also lowered its projections for fiscal year 2015 from 5.5 percent to 3.5 percent, or an additional $188 million in anticipated loss of general fund revenue.

This is the fifth consecutive time the council has lowered its projections, said Paul Harleman, the budget director for the Senate Minority Office.

Harleman said the state must absorb a loss of $264 million of anticipated general fund revenue during the state’s two-year budget cycle.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration has made some cuts, asking state department to restrict funds by 10 percent.

However, Slom said that will not be enough to of a halt “to stop the freefall” because the $14 million Abercrombie’s move adds up to is just a “drop in the bucket” in the state’s a $6 billion state budget.

“Because the state is not constitutionally permitted to borrow from outside sources for operating expenditures, it is likely the state will tap into the Emergency Budget Reserve Fund and Hurricane Relief Fund,” Slom said. “Those funds are not large, so that will be a small Band Aid for the problem and will not address the problem of overspending for long.”

Kalbert Young, director of the Hawaii’s Office of Budget and Finance, said he agrees the state is “headed into a situation where there is anticipated fiscal year imbalance” because spending is outpacing revenue.

The combination of the state ending balance and formal reserve balances in the Hurricane Relief Fund and the Emergency Budget Reserve Fund dropping below what he set as acceptable target levels, also concerns Young.

“I have been of the opinion that the state should target combination of reserve and ending balance to be no less than 10%,  but also to be of an objective to build formal reserves to be equal to 10% of the general fund budget over time.  Currently, formal reserve levels are projected to be 4.4% of FY15 general fund budget.  The combination of strong ending balances helped to keep Hawaii’s reserve and ending balances at or above the 10% target.  Now, with declining ending balances a possibility in the future and reserve levels at 4%, there is a risk that Hawaii would have inadequate reserve levels during the next economic down-cycle,” Young said.

Young said that unlike Slom, he remains “bullish on the state economy continuing to improve over the next two to three years, translating to increased tax revenue.”

“The challenge is to ensure that expenditure growth over that same period does not outpace revenue growth,” Young said.

Categories: In the News

How the Apple Watch Could Help Revolutionize Health Care

PHOCUSED Press - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 11:51

Apple watch via Reason

By Jim Epstein - Before the Apple Watch was revealed on September 9, it was rumored to include several biometric sensors that could track the vital signs of the person wearing it. The first iteration of the device turned out to be disappointing in this regard: It has only a heart rate monitor. But future iterations of the watch will likely track our body temperature, glucose levels, tremors, oxygen, and hydration, helping patients stay out of the doctor's waiting room.

This is just one of many promising ways in which Silicon Valley is poised to remake the monstrously inefficient health care industry. But can the tech industry stop the government from strangling its emerging ventures?

Take the Palo-Alto based company Theranos, founded in 2003 by Stanford University sophomore Elizabeth Holmes. It's developed a new approach to phlebotomy that involves a simple finger prick. The company uses software to test a single drop of blood on the spot at prices that read like they’re written on the menu board above a deli counter: Checking cholesterol levels costs $2.99. A glucose-tolerance test runs $8.85. Looking for the presence of a cancer antigen sets customers back $14.31. Holmes, now 30, tells the story of a diabetic who recently had several tests performed by Theranos for $34 that otherwise would have cost the insurance company $876.

Clinical labs like Quest Diagnostics, which booked $7.1 billion in revenues last year, aren't the only firms that need to watch out for Theranos. Patients don’t need to bother with insurance companies when a test costs just $2.99. Holmes, whose board of directors is packed with former high-profile government officials, is passionate about changing federal health laws to empower consumers. In February, Theranos scored a victory when the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule allowing patients in all 50 states to view their lab results without involving a doctor.

Other ventures aim to help patients make use of all this health data. Curious, a health technology firm cofounded by Linda Avey (who also helped start thepersonal genetics firm 23andme), will start beta testing a new platform in November that synethesizes genetic information (collected by 23andme), microbiomic profiles (collected by a startup called uBiome), personal traumas and life events that users will enter manually (such as a fight with a spouse), and (eventually) biometrics collected by wearables such as the Apple Watch. It will then analyze the information in a way that helps users determine what’s helping, causing, or exacerbating various ailments and conditions.

The company's cofounder and Chief Technology Officer, Mitsu Hadeishi, compares Curious to other peer-to-peer tech companies like Airbnb and Uber because customers will "anecdotally share things" with each other and the software will utilize its network to “look at patterns on a larger scale.” As an example, Hadeishi cites reports that eating the root black cohosh helps mitigate hot flashes. Through Curious, users could track the treatment's effectiveness and share their experiences with other users. If black cohosh helps some participants and not others, the software would look at other aspects of their health profiles that might explain the difference. "It’s not just people randomly saying things on message boards," says Hadeishi.

Ultimately, clinical studies will be necessary to establish links between treatments and outcomes, and Hadeishi sees Curious’ software in part as a "hypothesis generation source." In the past, clinicians could come up with broad theories about what works simply by observing their patients, but in the future doctors need to develop treatments tailored to subsets of patients based on their unique physiologies, so patterns are harder to detect. Tools like Curious’ software could help scientists develop testable ideas.

Medicine is in part about solving mysteries, and eventually Curious’ software (or similar products by other tech firms) could be much more effective at diagnosing problems than high-priced specialists. Yet Curious, like any company seeking to enter this space, has to look out for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Companies don't need the agency's approval to market products that track and share raw information on patients, but they get into trouble with the FDA when they try and make "predictive claims," says Paul Howard, the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress. Last November, the agency forced 23andme to pull its $99 personal genome test off the market for giving customers too much information about the implications of their test results.

Curious is walking a fine line in this regard, and the FDA could force the company to submit to an expensive approval process that would likely put it out of business. (Curious has raised about $900,000 in seed funding to date.) But Hadeishi says he's fairly confident that his product won’t require FDA approval, and he’s been in touch with staffers in the office of the U.S. Chief Technology Officer—a position created by President Obama to cut red tape—who are "aware of the types of things we want to do” and "want to find a way to accommodate innovation.”

Another way for patients to make use of all the health data available to them while avoiding costly and time-consuming office visits is through the burgeoning field of telemedicine.Doctors on Demand, which the Mercatus Center’s Robert Graboyes wrote about recently in Reason, offers users 15-minute online video chats with physicians for a flat fee of $40—or about the price of a co-pay to visit a doctor’s office under many insurance plans.

The Palo-Alto based HealthTap offers a similar service, with unlimited calls for $99 a month (plus $10 additional per family member), and participating physicians will call in prescriptions and examine physical symptoms photographed with a smartphone. A current limitation is that providers can’t check a patient’s pulse or temperature through a video call—but biometric data-gathering devices could change this, making telemedicine considerably more useful. A less surmountable limitation are state laws dictating that a physician licensed in one state can't treat a patient in another.

In its efforts to Uber-ize health care, Silicon Valley’s biggest challenge will be convincing states to repeal competition-killing licensing laws and working with the FDA to let software eat its way through our antiquated, expensive, and labor-intensive approach to patient care. There’s reason for optimism: In recent years, the tech industry has become far more adept at navigating the regulatory terrain in Washington. The next big political idea to fix our nation’s health care system should be to get out of the way.

 

Jim Epstein is a producer at Reason TV.

Categories: In the News

Care Home Operator Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 18:23

HONOLULU – Calling it a classic case of elderly neglect, Acting Attorney General Diane Taira announced today that a Waipahu caregiver has pleaded guilty to Manslaughter in a Honolulu Circuit Court.  36-year old Jennifer Polintan recklessly caused the death of 88-year old Nona Mosman in May of 2013.

Ms. Mosman was a client in Polintan’s care home which was licensed as a Community Care Foster Family Home (CCFFH) in Waipahu.  The State Department of Human Services (DHS) certifies these care homes to enable individuals needing 24-hour care in an intermediate care facility or a skilled nursing facility to remain in a home setting as part of a family.  The state licensing rules for a CCFFH require that during extended absences the licensed caregiver must provide duly qualified individuals to act as substitute caregivers.  The rules also require the licensed caregiver to follow a care plan as directed by the client’s primary care physician and state contracted case management agency.

Ms. Mosman became non-ambulatory in late 2012 and was bedbound in early 2013.  Once bedbound, Ms. Mosman became susceptible to bed sores and needed to be repositioned every two hours throughout the day.  Ms. Mosman was completely dependant on Polintan for her activities of daily living, including eating, drinking, general hygiene, toileting, and basic self-maintenance.

An investigation conducted by Special Agent Derrick Kiyotoki of the Department of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit revealed that Polintan worked full time at Schofield Barracks and was absent from the home for 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday.  During her extended absences, Polintan left Ms. Mosman in the care of individuals who were not duly qualified and who were incapable of carrying out the care plan.  As a result of Polintan’s neglect, Ms. Mosman’s health declined rapidly, culminating in her death in May of 2013.

Acting Attorney General Taira acknowledges that providing care to elderly persons can be difficult and trying, but says that, “When someone makes a conscious decision to bring a dependent adult into their home under the guise of providing care, and is getting paid to provide that care, then it is inexcusable and can have tragic consequences when they fail to do so.”  Taira adds that while these cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute, "the Department is committed to protecting the safety of vulnerable members of our community who can’t look out for themselves."

Polintan, who cooperated in the investigation and prosecution, will be sentenced on January 7, 2015, before First Circuit Judge Richard K. Perkins.  The plea agreement provides that Polintan will serve one year in jail, and in addition will pay $8,980 in restitution to Ms. Mosman’s family, $4,888.00 in restitution to the State of Hawaii, a $600 fine, and court costs.

According to Deputy Attorney General Michael Parrish, who is prosecuting the case, “This type of case can go undetected without the vigilance of medical professionals and oversight agencies.  Thankfully an akamai hospice nurse and social workers with the DHS Adult Protective Services branch broug

Categories: In the News

Class Action Suit Seeks Treatment for Autistic Children in Hawaii

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 15:39

Paul Alston

Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing (AHFI) and the Hawaii Disability Rights Center filed a lawsuit on September 5th in U.S. District Court accusing the State of Hawai`i Department of Human Services of denying critically needed treatment for autistic children.

Without the service, called applied behavioral analysis (ABA) treatment, children with autism are less likely to reach their full developmental capacity and are more likely to be institutionalized as adults.

The suit seeks an injunction to require the state to provide ABA to be in compliance with federal Medicaid rules. AHFI attorneys Paul Alston, Kristin Holland and Maile Osika represent the plaintiffs.

Founded in 1991, Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing counsels and represents clients in all types of civil matters,
including business disputes, real property matters, bankruptcy and insolvency, civil rights, healthcare law, employment law, government contracts, government relations, and strategic planning.

Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing is a member of the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.

Categories: In the News

Hawaii Department of Human Services Released from Federal Injunction

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 15:24

REPORT FROM DHS - HONOLULU – The Department of Human Services (DHS) Benefit, Employment and Support Services Division (BESSD) has successfully closed a February 2011 class action lawsuit for failure to issue Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits within timeframes outlined by federal law. To address the application backlog, BESSD developed and implemented the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) project, which converted the former Case Management system to a Process Management system.

Between Oct. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014, the average monthly timeliness rate for SNAP applications increased to 96.83 percent, a 30-percent improvement since Gov. Neil Abercrombie came into office.

“BESSD eligibility workers now consistently review and determine applicant eligibility within the federally mandated period of 30 days and seven days for emergencies,” said Pankaj Bhanot, BESSD Administrator.

As a result of these measurable improvements and successes, the U.S. District Court recently issued an Order of Settlement and Dismissal.  “The dismissal is most welcome,” said DHS Director Patricia McManaman. “It is really a testament to the dedication and hard work of the DHS BESSD staff.”

Dismissal of the lawsuit follows a $724,000 federal Food and Nutrition (FNS) Service bonus to BESSD for the nation’s most improved SNAP Program Access Index. The BESSD also received the 2014 Global Case Management Award for Excellence in Social Services for its nationally recognized enterprise content management solutions. Combined with the reengineered business processing, both initiatives contributed significantly to the improved application processing rates.

The class action lawsuit addressed application backlogs that accrued between 2008 and 2011, a period when the number of Hawaii SNAP recipients increased from 93,956 to more than 179,700 participants. During that same period, DHS also was operating with a severely reduced workforce and limited program funding. In some locations, timely application processing rates dropped to 29 percent.

Today, SNAP application processing rates vary between 96-98 percent, and BESSD continues to exceed federal requirements. Currently, an estimated 98,360 Hawaii households (193,446 individuals) receive SNAP assistance each month. On average, BESSD issues $43.3 million in benefits each month to Hawaii SNAP recipients.

Categories: In the News

Former Department of Human Services Investigator Charged with Theft

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:03

Hawaii Attorney General David Louie

HONOLULU – Attorney General David M. Louie announced that Roselani Wise (51, Lihue) was charged with Theft in the Second Degree on July 23, 2014 and arraigned on August 12, 2014, before Judge Randal Valenciano, Fifth Circuit, Island of Kauai. Her trial has been set for October 6, 2014.

Ms. Wise, a former Department of Human Services (DHS) investigator on the island of Kauai, was charged with Theft in the Second Degree for receiving unearned compensation from the State of Hawaii from 2008 through 2012.

An investigation revealed that during the hours for which she was being paid by DHS to conduct criminal fraud investigations, Ms. Wise was employed and actually working for the Federal Transportation Security Administration at the Lihue Airport.

Ms. Wise received in excess of $10,000 for work she did not perform.

A charge by way of Written Information is merely an allegation against Ms. Wise and she is presumed innocent until found guilty of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.

Categories: In the News

Visitor industry pushes for more help from city

PHOCUSED Press - Sun, 08/17/2014 - 15:30
Waikiki visitor industry officials say they are trying to raise $500,000 annually to work with the Institute for Human Services on alleviating the area's chronic homeless problem, but in the meantime they want the City Council to pass a pair of contentious bills aimed at cleaning up the tourism district.
Categories: In the News

Hawaii House leader ousted in election primary amid controversy

PHOCUSED Press - Fri, 08/15/2014 - 14:09

Gov. Neil Abercrombie dances with House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla (courtesy Facebook)

HONOLULU — House Majority floor leader Rida Cabanilla is out of a job after losing the Democratic primary to Matt LoPresti.

Hawaii Reporter was first to report in May that Cabanilla controlled a 501-c-3 nonprofit that received a $100,000 grant from the Hawaii State Legislature, which had lost its federal tax-exempt status with the IRS when it neglected to file required paperwork for at least three years.

Cabanilla told Hawaii Reporter she filed paperwork with the IRS for the Ewa Historical Society Inc. to rectify the issue, but that was after she already applied for — and was granted — funding from the Legislature. Cabanilla had not told fellow lawmakers she controlled the charity - or that it was out of IRS compliance - before they granted the charity’s request, and her name did not appear anywhere on the application submitted to the Legislature.

The Old Ewa Cemetery, a historic site founded in 1896, has been owned by the city and county of Honolulu since the 1970s and is maintained by the city and county and volunteers, including descendants of people buried there.

Former City Council Member Berg, who lives in Ewa, noted the charity applied in January for a $200,000 grant from the Legislature to hire three landscapers at $42,000 a piece and three grounds keepers at $23,000 each to take care of the 3-acre Old Ewa Cemetery.

If the grant had been awarded it would have equated to $17,000 a month in state funding going toward maintenance, in addition to what the city already does monthly, Berg said.

Since the Legislature awarded Cabanilla’s charity just half the money it requested, she told Hawaii Reporrter, “The $100,000 is just for weed whacking.”

Cabanilla explained she originally listed six positions on the application because she didn’t want anyone to work at the cemetery alone because of safety concerns, including sink holes near graves and ghost sightings. The state attorney general said in July that Cabanilla's charity would not receive the grant because of the tax filing issue.

The controversy over the cemetery isn't the only one that likely contributed to Cabanilla's political demise.

In Nov. 2013, the state Campaign Spending Commission fined Cabanilla $500 for filing “false or inaccurate” campaign spending reports and $50 for filing the reports late. Cabanilla held a fundraiser in March 2013, which raised nearly $5,800 and expended nearly $2,900. Her campaign spending report said she had no activity during that period. She apologized publicly for her “error.”

In January, Cabanilla brought media coverage after she proposed solving Hawaii’s financial troubles by legalizing cultivating, manufacturing and exporting marijuana and marijuana food products internationally.

In July, Cabanilla proposed implementing “Return to Home,” which would set aside $100,000 over three years to buy homeless people from the U.S. mainland one-way airfare home. Cabanilla said giving the homeless airline tickets would reduce the ever-growing problem of homelessness in Hawaii and ensure the homeless can reconnect with family and support networks in their home states.

Neither the governor nor the state Department of Human Services, the agency that establishes and administers the program under state law, has implemented it. The Department of Human Service director said she believes the program would attract more homeless people to Hawaii.

In the general election, LoPresti will take on Berg, who is running as a Libertarian. Brian Jeremiah, a New Hope pastor who reformed himself after criminal past, is running as a Republican.

Categories: In the News

Reimbursements available for food spoiled by storm

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 14:53
The state Department of Human Services is helping eastern Big Island residents who receive food stamps get reimbursements for food destroyed by storm-related power outages.
Categories: In the News

Do We Really Want to Starve Hawaii's Golden Goose?

PHOCUSED Press - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 13:05

Following the money government spends isn't easy in Hawaii, according to a new report - Photo: Emily Metcalf

By Tom Yamachika - Our legislative session for this year is now over. Among other things the legislature passed this year was the state budget. With the exception of a few line-item vetoes, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the bill and now we have a budget.

Our state's fiscal year started on July 1st. With that new budget in place, can agencies like our Department of Taxation start implementing the plans that are in their approved budget? The answer is no. Despite having a budget in place, the Governor's office has ordered spending restrictions. The restrictions are across-the-board, meaning that every agency must take its general fund budget and cut it again by a certain percentage. For the fiscal year that just began, that percentage is 10%, double the amount restricted last fiscal year.

Kalbert Young, director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, said this restriction was ordered because state revenues are predicted to be flat to nearly a half percent lower than for the fiscal year that just ended. "While the ten percent is admittedly larger, it's still only preliminary and it's really until certain financial and fiscal metrics are more thoroughly evaluated for the state," he told HawaiiNewsNow.

The restrictions mean departments will not be able to spend money buying new vehicles and other equipment, hire new personnel or expand new programs or start new ones, at least for the next few months.

But what about fixing things that could use some repair?

Witness our Department of Taxation. In its annual reports, it said that when taxpayers called, their employees were able to answer the phone only some of the time. This percentage has varied over the years: 90% in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007, 81% in 2008, 80% in 2009, 61% in 2010, 40% in 2011, 57% in 2012, and 59% in 2013.

Folks, if our tax agency can only pick up the phone half the time, and they are making the news for duplicate bills and other issues, a 10% indiscriminate budget cut is not going to help fix them. We need to realize that we depend on tax revenue, and that we depend on this department to bring it in. Are we going to starve the golden goose to make it lay more eggs?

We already know that the Department of Education has asked for reconsideration from the cut since it comes at the beginning of the school year when public schools have their largest start-up costs. If our government leaders are inclined to grant requests like this one, shouldn't reconsideration be given to our tax agency which brings in the funds so desperately needed?

Sure, every department and every office will argue that their programs and services are essential, and they all will have good arguments. Thus, one may think that to be fair, every agency must feel the ax equally. But in practice that isn't how it works. The Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs are funded by federal money and special funds, which means they are exempt from the restrictions. So: two agencies bring in their own money and are exempt, while DOTAX brings in their own AND everyone else's money, and has to feel the pain.

Come on, folks. Let’s go back to the original problem, which is state revenues. The restrictions were ordered because we aren’t sure how much money is going to come in. If we are going to starve the agency whose primary job is to bring in that money and cripple its operations, we will increase the chances that the money will not, in fact, come in. Put another way, if we need the golden goose to pull us out of our financial doldrums, we better make sure the goose is healthy.

Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Yamachika's commentary is printed each week in: The Maui News, West Hawaii Today, The Garden Island, Civil Beat , Hawaii Free Press and the HawaiiReporter.com.

Categories: In the News

SNAP Beneficiaries May Request Reimbursement for Food Destroyed During Storm Related Power Outages

PHOCUSED Press - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 14:20

Hurricane Iselle

Thousands of Hawaii households remain without electricity in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Iselle this past weekend.  Most people affected by power outages reside on the east side of Hawaii Island.  Others are scattered across Oahu and Maui County.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) reminds beneficiaries of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as Food Stamps) that beneficiary households may request reimbursement for the actual dollar value of food destroyed by storm related power outages.  The reimbursement cannot exceed the household's current monthly allotment (HAR 17-681-31).

To qualify for reimbursement, the affected household must have been participating in the SNAP when the disaster occurred, and report the loss to the DHS Benefit, Employment and Support Services Division (BESSD) within 10 business days of the severe weather event. The deadline to submit reimbursement requests for food spoiled during Tropical Storm Iselle is Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.

To be considered for the reimbursement, the affected SNAP household must provide the DHS BESSD a signed statement that includes the following information:

1)        Name of the storm and dates of impact;

2)        General list of food items lost due to storm related power outage;

3)        Length of time household power was out of service;

4)        Statement that the household is aware of the penalties for the intentional misrepresentation of the facts; and

5)        Statement that the household is aware that SNAP replacement allotment will not be issued if the required statement is not signed and returned within 10 days.

BEFORE MAILING OR DROPPING OFF the reimbursement request, SNAP beneficiaries should contact the BESSD Processing Center that maintains their case file for additional instructions. Individuals who don’t know which Processing Center maintains their file may call (808) 586-5720 to inquire.

An estimated 98,000 households currently receive SNAP benefits statewide.  There are approximately 25,000 SNAP households on Hawaii Island; 5,000 on Kauai; and 12,000 in Maui County.  To learn more about the Hawaii SNAP, visit the DHS website www.humanservices.hawaii.gov/bessd/snap.

Categories: In the News

US State to Quarantine Ebola-exposed Missionaries

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 13:19

FILE - An Aeromedical Biological Containment System (ABCS) is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

The southern U.S. state of North Carolina is stepping up efforts to guard against the possible spread of the Ebola virus to the United States.

On Sunday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said anyone returning from Africa who worked with Ebola patients will be put into quarantine.

That precautionary measure will mean isolation for three weeks after a missionary’s last contact with an Ebola-infected person.

Two missionaries from North Carolina-based aid organizations contracted the deadly virus working at a clinic in Liberia with Ebola-infected patients.

The missionaries - one from SIM USA and the other from Samaritan’s Purse - are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is on pace to infect more people than all previous outbreaks of the virus combined.

The World Health Organization on Friday said 1,779 people in four West African nations have contracted the deadly virus so far, and that 961 of them have died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated its emergency operation center at the highest level.

Categories: In the News

Tropical Storm Iselle Damages Big Island, Maui, after Lawmakers Raid Hurricane Fund

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 11:37

Hurricane Iselle

HONOLULU — As the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui were impacted by weather generated by two passing hurricanes last week, some residents believed any substantial damage could be alleviated by the state’s $126 million hurricane relief fund.

But that well has nearly run dry after the state Legislature snatched the funds to balance the budget in 2011.

The fund was established in 1993, shortly after Hurricane Iniki slammed into the islands of Oahu and Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. That Category 4 hurricane, the most powerful storm to ever hit Hawaii, killed six people and caused $1.8 billion in damage. More than 1,400 homes on Kauai were destroyed and another 5,000 homes severely damaged in the 145-mph winds.

After the storm, several insurance companies either went out of business or refused to insure the Hawaiian market, and as a result, hurricane coverage availability and affordability became major issues for homeowners.

In response, the state established the hurricane relief fund, requiring homeowners to contribute.

As the hurricane insurance market improved in the following years, the fund discontinued issuing hurricane policies, but there was still a substantial fund balance remaining.

Some homeowners wanted their money returned. Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, introduced legislation to facility refunds, but that bill was defeated. The fund proved too tempting for the Legislature and governor, and they raided the fund in 2011 to balance the state budget.

Some $55.5 million was repaid as of August 2013. State Finance Director Kalbert Young said another $55.5 million will be refunded this month.

“I warned against any special fund being established because the funds would be in danger of being raided by the Legislature or the executive branch, as was the case in 2011,” Slom said. “We cannot guarantee funds that are supposed to be earmarked will ever be used for that purpose.”

So if not for homeowners to access, what’s the purpose of the fund?

There is now adequate insurance coverage available in the marketplace for homeowners to get private hurricane so the fund isn’t “active” for coverage, Young said. The fund will remain dormant until sufficient private hurricane insurance policies aren’t available, he added.

The fund is considered state reserve and use of the funds is limited, extensively controlled, and future use would require legislative authority, Young said.

However, if a catastrophe occurs and funds are needed to repair infrastructure, the governor and Legislature could use the money for that purpose.

“Clearly, one source could be the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund, but others could include cash appropriation, debt authority or special funds,” Young said.

Slom said he opposes any further raids on the fund. “Raiding it to balance the budget for excessive spending is outrageous,” he said.

Hurricane Iselle first hit the Big Island of Hawaii on Thursday evening as a weak hurricane, and then transitioned into a tropical storm as it doused the island chain Friday with heavy rains. Hurricane Julio went north of the islands.

Categories: In the News

Hawaii's Partnership Against Fraud Formed to Fight Financial Scams

PHOCUSED Press - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 13:02

HONOLULU - The Hawaii Bankers Association (HBA) today announced a coalition named Hawaii's Partnership Against Fraud (HPAF), led by the HBA to generate greater awareness about the threats of financial scams. HPAF brings together community resources dedicated to protecting local citizens, especially the elderly, from the many scams perpetrated in the community. As over 80% of the victims of financial scams are over the age of 60, the coalition is specifically geared towards this age group.

The coalition partners include:

  • AARP Hawaii
  • Better Business Bureau of Hawaii
  • City and County of Honolulu, Elderly Affairs Division
  • City and County of Honolulu, Department of the Prosecuting Attorney
  • Hawaii Association of Broadcasters
  • Hawaii Bankers Association
  • Hawaii Credit Union League
  • Olelo Community Media
  • Olomana Loomis ISC
  • Radio KZOO
  • Hawaii State Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs, Division of Financial Institutions
  • Hawaii State Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs, Office of the Securities Commissioner
  • Hawaii State Department of Health, Executive Office on Aging
  • Hawaii State Department of the Attorney General, Crime Prevention & Justice Assistance Division
  • Hawaii State Department of Human Services, Adult Protective & Community Services Branch
  • Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General
  • University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Cooperative Extension Service

The campaign kicked off in early July with media advertising on television and radio, funded by the HBA. The advertising, running statewide, will continue through the end of the year. The advertising poses various fraud scenarios and asks the question: "Is This For Real?"

The coalition is also available to make presentations to community groups to discuss prevailing fraud schemes, and tips to protect consumers. Brochures and other printed materials will be available from participating coalition partners. Participating banks will also be distributing educational materials to its customers.  To request a presentation, call Diane at the State of Hawaii Executive Office on Aging at (808) 382-1904.

Members of the public with questions about the legitimacy of offers or who feel they have been victimized may contact the Better Business Bureau at (808) 628-3950 or (888) 333-1593 (for neighbor island calls). For more information regarding HPAF, visit http://www.bbb.org/hawaii/hawaii-partnership-against-fraud.

Since 1961, the Hawaii Bankers Association (HBA) has brought together all FDIC-insured depository institutions doing business in Hawaii, including banks, thrifts and a financial services company. The HBA represents its members by advocating for Hawaii's economic vitality and sustainability through collaboration with legislators, regulators and the community. Its members have $44 billion in total assets and employ 7,000 people. For more information about the HBA, visit http://hawaiiba.org/.

Categories: In the News

Pages

Subscribe to PHOCUSED aggregator - In the News