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Local Medicaid director says TALOFAPASS built as team effort

TalofaPass landing page
Says it’s “unfortunately been the subject of much innuendo…”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In a 3-hour hearing before the House Committee on Health, chaired by Faipule Andra Samoa, yesterday, Thursday, Mar. 17, Medicaid director Sandra King Young testified that TALOFAPASS, the online platform solution that ASG created in 2021 to manage and continue travel during the pandemic has “unfortunately been the subject of much innuendo, disinformation, and distortions of the actual facts based on the good faith work the government engaged in to protect our territory from COVID while still allowing travel to happen.”

In the email copy to Samoa News yesterday afternoon of King Young’s statement before the committee, she describes the news reporting around TALOFAPASS being “based largely on imagined, made-up narratives, not facts, and has served only to confuse people and cause misunderstanding.”

According to her statement, read to the committee, “When the public’s attention and scrutiny have been ostensibly commandeered in this way, it divides us as a people and in effect, becomes a barrier to the important work of managing the pandemic that is now in our community.

“As a matter of public health and safety, it makes our job that much harder.

“Public discourse and healthy dialogue must move the conversation and process forward based on a shared understanding of actual facts and timelines, not upon what people imagine happened,” King Young said.

The local Medicaid director does not specifically name the news agency that reported what she characterized as “not facts” about the TALOFAPASS IT platform.

However, Samoa News points out that the IT platform was reported on by KHJ radio, re an appeal by a local company, Klaod Solutions inc. of the decision by the Chief Procurement Officer to award the contract for the American Samoa Safe Travel System to Datahouse Consulting Inc of Honolulu.

In its report, KHJ said that Klaod Solutions is a company owned by Kenneth and Luisa Kuaea and its appeal was filed with the Administrative Law Judge by attorney Thomas B Jones on November 18.

The KHJ report cites two contentions Klaod Solutions makes:

1.      Despite it being a local company and submitting a bid more than $1 million less, the contract was awarded to an off -island company, Datahouse Consulting Inc., for $6.4 million on August 19 ‘in violation of federal and territorial procurement laws’.”

2.      The TALOFAPASS IT platform or website went live prior to the announcement of the award, demonstrating that “Datahouse constructed the website prior to the award of the contract, that they had advance knowledge of the RFP and that they would be awarded the contract…”

KHJ reported among other allegations, Klaod Solutions alleges involvement by the Medicaid Director in Datahouse’s set up and operation in American Samoa, and the company cites a whistleblower email it received on August 23, “which alleges substantial collusion between the Medicaid Director Sandra King Young and Datahouse Consulting.”

The email reportedly alleges that “she brought Datahouse executives on a private flight to American Samoa on July 22, 10 days prior to the announcement of the RFP, “under the guise of a test flight for the safe travel system,” and that “the flight was funded through Medicaid and used COVID grant funds.”

The appeal further alleges that King Young helped Datahouse obtain a local business license, a requirement of which was to have a local address or Post Office box to prove residency, and that Department of Commerce whistleblowers said the PO Box used by Datahouse business license application belongs to The Medicaid Director.

Klaod Solutions in its appeal requests that the Administrative Law Judge:

1.      Overturn the CPO’s decision to award the RFP to Datahouse Consulting and appoint a new Source Evaluation Board to review and evaluate the proposals previously submitted;

2       award to Klaod Solutions lost profits resulting from the collusive and unethical conduct of ASG officials;

3.      award costs for preparing its proposal that was rejected; and,

4.      award all costs and reasonable attorney fees and other remedies as deemed proper and just by the ALJ.

On Dec. 9, 2021, the motion to dismiss the appeal was filed by ASG, in which it says that “upon information and belief, the Governor has not referred Petitioner’s appeal to the ALJ for her review. Accordingly, this case should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.”

The matter is still being adjudicated.

In her statement, King Young explains and describes how the system originated, saying both herself and DoH director Motusa Tuileama Nua were instructed by the GAR, Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale (who is also the head of the COVID Task Force) “to come up with a plan to ensure that the Governor’s wishes to continue the flights would be viable after July.

“We took the lead in this effort and together with the AG, DOH, DHS, ASG HI based team and several agency personnel we deliberated and designed an IT solution to build resiliency, flexibility and applicability for future public health emergencies.”

She continued, “…Most of all, we needed a system that would treat all travelers equally and fairly.

“At every step of the way, the GAR provided his guidance and authority for the tasks we were instructed to carry out.

“We held regular online meetings to monitor our progress, make recommendations and receive approvals for any decisions that needed to be made,” she stated.

The Medicaid director cites “several critical principles that we used to guide the development of the Safe Travels system. The system had to:

1. Treat everyone fairly.

2. Be highly secure and HIPAA compliant.

3. Be auditable so we can hold ASG agencies accountable for the fair screening of all travelers and to ensure that travelers were also held accountable to meet the requirements for travel as determined by the government.

4. Help manage COVID for the unforeseen future and any other virus or pandemic of the future, particularly given our experience with the measles outbreak and the first stages of the pandemic.

5. Help modernize the way we conduct travel by making our travel contactless — to minimize the spread of germs through contact.

“A key concept for ASG was to build a system to put our territory on the path of modernizing travel because of COVID,” she said. Digitizing the process and making immigration and customs procedures “contactless”  to limit the spread of the virus was important.

In her statement, King Young says, “Our vision and plans to transition to commercial travel were diligently tested through pre-test flights, one in July and one in August. The Safe Travels system was designed while we were based in Hawaii working with Hawaii based DataHouse.”

She provided a timeline for the bid and how many bidders there were, noting that it was on the advice of of “ASG leaders and the Office of Procurement, the project was eventually put out as an emergency bid under the public health emergency declaration to cast a wider net for other off-island and on-island vendors and to meet the requirements of the federal grantor.

“There was a total of six vendors who bid and the top two finalists were both off-island companies. DataHouse was the second highest bidder that settled for $6.3 million below a Google affiliated bidder who bid $8 million.

“The critical criteria were time and experience to execute the system in order to reopen commercial flights by September 2021.”

King Young concluded that “ASG has been the beneficiary of DataHouse being based in Hawaii; they have contributed greatly and provided significant support to our government in our Hawaii operations.”

Samoa News will report more on the AS Medicaid director’s testimony before the House Health Committee this coming week, which included Capture Diagnostics, one of the two testing centers in the State of Hawaii that was used by American Samoa.