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Nomination for new state Office of Wellness and Resilience to focus on 'trauma-informed care'

Tia Roberts Hartsock, Director of the Office of Wellness and Resilience
Office of Gov. Josh Green
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Tia Roberts Hartsock, director of the Office of Wellness and Resilience

The state Legislature passed a bill to establish an Office of Wellness and Resilience last year, and late last month, Gov. Josh Green nominated Tia Roberts Hartsock to lead it.

"The big hope is to really look at taking a deeper dive into why and how to address the disproportionate number, the disproportionate representation, of those who are Native Hawaiian, those who are Micronesian that are represented — over-represented — in our systems, (and) to improve the way that we respond to people suffering and struggling in our communities," Hartsock said during a Friday interview.

Hartsock, with more than 20 years of mental health and criminal justice experience and currently a project director at the state Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division, said trauma-informed care is a prevailing thread to tackle these issues.

"Trauma-informed care is an approach based on a knowledge of how trauma impacts our behaviors, how it impacts our brain development," Hartsock said. "It is based upon the concept that trauma is pervasive and understanding how it interrupts trajectories of brain development."

It's the idea that our lived experiences, including trauma "inform how we show up, how we behave, how we cope, how we manage stress."

Hartsock is the chair of the state's trauma-informed care task force, which meets monthly and is working on initiatives to specifically address the state’s issues, while staying true to its culture.

"We have been trying to, over the past year and a half, trying to develop that approach and define what the concepts mean to us, identify practitioners that are doing the work here, create opportunities to discuss what cultural practices are research-based to which are healing, which are effective, which build resilience," Hartsock said. "We're also creating definitions for ourself as it relates to what it means to be trauma-informed as a state, and identify the ways in which communities are successfully implementing these principles."

Hawaiʻi is the first in the nation to set up a statewide Office of Wellness and Resilience, which will be temporarily housed in the governor's office. Hartsock sees working with the state Department of Education, Health Department, Human Services and Judiciary as well as nonprofits will be important to make change.

"All of these departments have their own little ways of implementing trauma-informed care," she said.

Hartsock said the pandemic also exposed experiences like burnout and compassion fatigue in the workforce, which is another area she'd like to tackle.

"I think it's a huge opportunity with amazing timing to really impact and address the unmet mental health needs of our communities that were already struggling," Hartsock said.

Before getting started, Hartsock will still need approval from the state Legislature this month.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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