PUHI — Returning to island life was a dream come true for Dr. Janet Berreman.
The newest Kauai District Health Officer took up her post at the Lihue District Health Office on Jan. 17.
“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Berreman back home to Hawaii and to the Department of Health,” said Keith Yamamoto, the state’s deputy director of health. “We are confident that her wealth of experience and knowledge will truly benefit the people of Kauai.”
Berreman came from a 10-year career as the local health officer for the City of Berkeley, California, where she oversaw a full range of health programs. Prior to that, Berreman was the first pediatrician to join the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center on Oahu, where she cared for children for 11 years.
Before that, Berreman and her husband, David Kennard, lived in American Samoa, where she was a pediatrician at the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago.
“I feel pretty rooted in island life and I feel I have some grounding on what it’s like living and working in the islands, although I don’t have experience with Kauai,” Berreman said.
A decade of experience each as a physician and as a public health official are backgrounds Berreman thinks are very useful for her new position.
“I have a good amount of clinical expertise about medical things. I’ve been a practicing doctor for a long time,” she said. “I’ve also developed governmental health systems and (know) the impact of policy on health.”
Having clinical expertise will help Berreman accomplish the central goal of her first few months as Kauai District Health Officer — understanding the community.
“I’m meeting with people who live here and I’m listening to concerns and top priorities so we can together plot a course of improving and promoting health here,” she said.
She continued: “I’ve been impressed with the commitment and enthusiasm of virtually every person I’ve met for doing work to make Kauai healthier. It’s a place that supports well-being and there’s more that we can do.”
Updating the Kauai Community Health Needs Assessment is another way Berreman plans to ascertain the people’s needs and priorities.
Coincidentally, she developed the same type of thing for the City of Berkeley in 2013, the same year the Kauai Community Health Needs Assessment was created.
“I read it carefully before I came here and the thing that impressed me was that it really looked like a collaborative effort,” she said.
Berreman is interested in revisiting the Kauai Community Health Needs Assessment and updating it, something she knows will take time because of the amount of partners and data collection involved.
“I think the time is ripe to do that. Time flies and there’s been a lot of changes since 2013,” she said. “That’s a priority for me and it will provide a blueprint and guidance going forward with the kind of work we want to do.”
Understanding the community she serves is very important to Berreman, but she wants to be more than a face in an office.
“I want to be a resource for the community and if you have a physician district health officer, that’s something,” she said.
“If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it and help with evaluating health issues.”
One of the roles of her job is to be the voice of science on public health issues, she said, and she takes that seriously.
“That’s a way in which the local health officer is the resource to provide scientific information,” she said.
In her free time, Berreman is a distance runner who has run the Honolulu Marathon several times.
“My best time is just under 5 hours. I’m registered to run it this year, so if I say that maybe that’ll keep me on track for training,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the Mayor-athon and the half marathon.”
She and her husband also enjoy hiking — and are glad to live within walking distance of the Kauai District Health Office.
Kennard retired from the Federal Emergency Management Agency last summer and now works for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
“I walk past Wilcox Elementary School every morning and I get to see them dropping the kids off,” Berreman said. “We feel so lucky to be here, doing things we like with colleagues we enjoy in a place we like to be.”