Long-time mental health expert named new state director for trauma care

Gov. Josh Green announced his pick to head a new state agency tasked with helping people deal with childhood trauma and other mental health issues.
Published: Dec. 30, 2022 at 3:59 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2022 at 6:22 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. Josh Green announced his pick to head a new state agency tasked with helping people deal with childhood trauma and other mental health issues.

Tia Roberts Hartsock will be the new director of the Governor’s Office of Wellness and Resilience as of Jan. 17.

She’s a mental health veteran who helps young female trauma survivors in the criminal justice and child welfare systems as part of a federal initiative within the state Department of Health.

“Trauma informed care is an approach to understanding the pervasiveness of trauma in our lives,” explained Hartsock. “So the awareness and education around that and how traumatic events impacts the way in which we think, learn, concentrate, respond to stress.”

The state legislature earlier this year appropriated nearly $900,000 to create the semi-autonomous state agency.

It’s the first of its kind in the nation with an ambitious goal — address the root cause of society’s biggest problems and hopefully, reduce crime, substance abuse, suicide, human trafficking and homelessness.

“If we do a good job on having better policy and decreased trauma, we won’t have as much expenditure,” Green said. “We’ll save a lot of resource that we can spend on other things because maybe then those who have been incarcerated will get their lives back more quickly.”

Nearly 40% of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States have experienced psychological trauma.

Some state departments have social workers, but they barely scratch the surface. Green said a statewide team is game-changing.

“A small kind of assault force, frankly, of say six people with expertise to go and help prepare them to incorporate trauma informed service and policy and their departments will be good,” he said.

Hartsock chairs a multi-agency Trauma-Informed Statewide Task Force, created in 2021 in response to rising trauma caused by the global pandemic.

“We’re all doing it in our own way. We all have our own kind of definitions, our own ways of interpreting the principles. We have our own ways of training people but there’s no coordinated effort to kind of systematically standardize that,” said Hartsock.

She added that she plans to implement the group’s framework.

“I’d love the office to kind of think of ways to standardize the approach so that everybody is speaking the same language, has the same outcomes and goals as it relates to what healing looks like, what building resilience looks like, and doing it through a framework that can bring in our uniqueness that we have in Hawaii.”

Many say they’re encouraged by the state’s shift from punishment to healing.

“Identifying as a victim of trauma, you know, recognizing what trauma I’ve survived, was a huge part of getting to a place where I could actually heal from it and where it wouldn’t trickle into all the other areas of my life, my relationships, my career, my well being,” said Diana Bejasa Gremillion, a 9/11 survivor and trauma-informed life coach.

Green said he will also prioritize cultural competency to better connect with non-English speaking communities like Micronesians, who are disproportionately incarcerated.

He’s also working on hiring incentives to address a severe mental health worker shortage.

“COVID created kind of an environment of post traumatic stress disorder for society,” Green said. “People didn’t get to do what they normally do, they didn’t get to see their families, often, economically they were challenged or threatened.”

Green added this change comes at a time of rebuilding.

“There’s a lot that has to be done. And so I think they have a big job ahead of them at the Office of Wellness.”