Sunday, April 6, 2003

Hemmings says Waimanalo
firings are a payback

By Leila Fujimori

State Sen. Fred Hemmings says two Waimanalo Health Center employees were fired in retribution for his successful drive to oust the center's director, an allegation the center denies.

Christina Shoemaker Simmons, the coordinator of the Women, Infant and Children's program at the Waimanalo Health Center, was dismissed Monday, and another employee, whom the center would not identify, was fired March 28.

The health center's spokesman, Greig Gaspar, said the firing was for cause and not an attempt to silence whistleblowers. But he said he could not reveal details due to privacy laws.

Gaspar said the actions have nothing to do with Hemmings' contention of retribution.

In December, Hemmings said he received information from former employees on questionable transactions made by the center's then executive director, Kawahine Kamakea-Ohelo. The center's board voted to fire her in January after allegations of misuse of state and federal funds, and she is under investigation for fraud.

Hemmings said the two employees were told they were fired for sending and receiving confidential information.

"There's nothing confidential about a publicly funded organization," he said. "The material they claimed was confidential was names and addresses of board of directors, and that's why they were fired."

Simmons did not return phone calls from the Star-Bulletin.

Gaspar criticized Hemmings, saying, "Anytime he has a concern or somebody has cried to him, he has gone to the media.

"I find it sad and pathetic that Sen. Hemmings chooses not to speak to us, but do our dirty laundry by media.

"We offered him twice to come to the health center and speak to our executive director and he has chosen not to."

Hemmings denied any such offer was made.

"I've asked the board to reconsider the cruel firing of these two women and to give them leave with pay until this matter can be rectified," Hemmings said.

The board of directors announced Thursday it has appointed Charles Braden Jr. executive director. He will begin the job April 21.

Waimanalo Health Center
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