Senator Takes Heat from Psychologists, Retirees on Potential Conflicts of Interest

By Dayton, Kevin; Williams, Dana | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, April 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

Senator Takes Heat from Psychologists, Retirees on Potential Conflicts of Interest


Dayton, Kevin, Williams, Dana, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, listens to testimony during a hearing relating to home births. Aside from his legislative duties, Green works as a physician on weekends at Kohala Hospital, which is part of the state's network of hospitals operated by the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

Senate Health Committee chairman and physician Josh Green has amassed more campaign contributions than any other member of the Hawaii Legislature, tapping into a rich pipeline of donated cash from doctors and others in the health care industry.

Now critics, including AARP Hawaii and the Hawaii Psychological Association, are crying foul -- alleging that campaign cash and Green's position as a physician practicing at a Hawaii island hospital present unacceptable conflicts of interest for the lawmaker.

Those organizations lobbied hard this year for bills they contend would improve care for elderly residents and the mentally ill, only to watch helplessly as Green killed both measures when they arrived at his Senate Health Committee.

Those bills were opposed by physicians or hospitals, which each account for large portions of the campaign donations Green has accumulated.

A Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of Green's campaign spending reports shows he collected $91,000 from physicians and physicians groups since he became Health Committee chairman in 2011, and collected another $27,000 from hospitals and medical groups.

By the end of 2014, Green had banked $503,743 in campaign funds, which is more than double the amount of cash held by any other member of the Legislature.

Green (D, Naalehu, Kailua-Kona), denied the campaign money he received had any bearing on his decision to kill the bills. He said there are important problems with both measures -- House Bill 1072 and Senate Bill 296 -- which is why he blocked them.

In both cases, Green said his experience as a physician "informs what is safest for society, and that is my only consideration -- not who supports me, not who writes letters of support. What I base my decisions on is real experience about what would be good decisions as a legislator."

Gerry Silva, state president of the AARP in Hawaii, said members of his organization are disturbed both because Green works as a hospital physician, and because the organization is aware he received significant contributions from doctors and hospitals. Green works weekends at Kohala Hospital, which is part of the state's network of hospitals operated by the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

The Hawaii Health Systems Corp. opposed the AARP bill, as did the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which lobbies on behalf of the state's hospitals. Also opposing the bill was the Hawaii Medical Association, the professional organization for Hawaii physicians that lobbies on behalf of doctors. Each of those organizations made political contributions to Green.

EVEN IF THERE IS no formal finding of a "conflict of interest," Silva said, Green's actions suggest he is answering to the needs of the hospitals instead of the needs of the larger community.

"In my mind, there is definitely a conflict, and I am just unable to understand why he couldn't have taken the appropriate way out, which is to recuse himself," Silva said. "There may not be a conflict, but in my mind there is certainly the perception of a conflict."

The AARP has 150,000 members in Hawaii, and the organization says it is promoting Senate Bill 296 on behalf of the 247,000 caregivers in the state.

AARP is concerned that hospitals sometimes release patients without giving them or their caregivers the training they need for proper home care. Senate Bill 296 would allow patients to identify their caregivers if any are available, and would require hospitals to notify those caregivers when the patients are released. It would also require the hospital to provide basic homecare instruction to the designated caregivers. …

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