5 Things Hawaii: Q&A w/ HBPC Director Will White, First decking, Hawaii CARES


Emily Boerger


This edition of “5 Things We’re Watching” features several of the conversations our team at State of Reform has hosted over the past month. We have a Q&A with the new director of the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center, comments from Lt. Gov. Josh Green from our recent federal policy conference, and an update on changes to the state’s behavioral health crisis call center.

A big shoutout to Nicole Pasia, who leads our reporting in Hawaii, for her help in preparing this newsletter each month!

Emily Boerger
State of Reform


1. Lt. Gov. Green updates federal audience on Hawaii health system

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, M.D., discussed how COVID has changed Hawaii’s health care system during a multi-state panel conversation at the 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference last month. Green joined leaders from Michigan and Maryland for a conversation that touched on behavioral health, disparities in data, and workforce reform.

Though cases and hospitalizations have significantly declined in Hawaii since the omicron surge, Green says long-term concerns remain. These include the long-term impacts on COVID “long haulers,” critical staffing shortages, impacts on behavioral health and substance abuse, and exacerbated health disparities. You can view the full video of the conversation here.

2. Q&A: HBPC Director Will White

Will White is the new director of the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center, where his focus is on utilizing the state budget and tax code to foster economic security in Hawaii communities. In this Q&A, White discusses the intersection of health and economic well-being, as well as his short and long-term plans for HBPC.

Looking to the future, White says he wants HBPC to become more active in the legislature. He’d like to see leaders more frequently utilizing the center’s research and analysis to inform their decision making. White also says he’s interesting in seeing how HBPC can do more work around equity and inclusion. “People are talking about it, but I think it would be really interesting to look at how these concepts of race and equity are actually reflected in our budget and tax code, and how that affects things like health outcomes.”

3. What They’re Watching: Ashley Shearer, the Queen’s Medical Center

Ashley Shearer, LCSW, director of care coordination, UM & CDI at the Queen’s Medical Center, is working to address Hawaii’s high emergency department utilizers—especially those who come in for non-emergent needs. In this “What They’re Watching” video, Shearer discusses work being done by the Queen’s Care Coalition to assist this population in getting the right kind of care.

A key way to support these folks, says Shearer, is through good data collection. “Doing things like social determinants of health screenings in all sorts of health care settings is invaluable. It makes such a huge impact to get that pulse check on: what is our population looking like in Hawaii right now? Where are our needs and how can we then use that data to better inform how we make policy decisions [and] how we allocate resources?”


4. First decking for health bills

With the 2022 legislative session nearly halfway through, bills are facing the first decking deadline on Friday and the first crossover deadline next week. Bills scheduled to be heard in committee on Friday include SB 2241, which would allow minors to consent to HIV-related treatment or preventive measures, and SB 899, which would require members of the State Council on Mental Health to receive annual training on topics such as cultural awareness and addressing Native Hawaiian healing and health practices.

Health-related bills that recently passed out of committee include SB 2433, which would require the Department of Public Safety to reward inmates who participate in correctional education programs with subsidized health insurance, housing, or tuition after release, and SB 2207, which would add LGBTQ+ representation to the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness.


5. Hawaii CARES prepares for new contract

Hawaii CARES, the state’s 24/7 behavioral health crisis call center, is preparing to begin a new contract April 1 with its new operator, CARE Hawaii. The Department of Health’s Adult Mental Health Division put out a request for proposals in late 2021 for the program, with a total award amount of $2.026 million.

AMHD Chief Administrator Amy Curtis, Ph.D., said the purpose of the new contract is to create a more direct pathway for callers in immediate crisis to reach the appropriate responders. She expects a seamless transition with no breach in services for callers. AMHD is also preparing for the implementation of the 988 national suicide hotline later this year.