Poki Namkung, Berkeley’s health officer for the past ten years, resigned last week to become health officer for Santa Cruz County.
Namkung’s last day in Berkeley will be June 4.
“I feel good going on to a bigger challenge,” Namkung said. “I’ll have an entire county with its own health care system.”
In Berkeley, Namkung gained a reputation for obtaining state grants to expand the city’s public health programs. She inherited a budget just under $5 million and is leaving with a budget now over $12 million, 80 percent of which comes from outside grants, she said.
Namkung developed state-funded programs for nursing case management, domestic violence prevention, tobacco prevention, HIV prevention and African American infant health care.
“Our loss is Santa Cruz’s gain,” said Tom Kelly, chairman of the Community Health Commission. “She’ll be really difficult to replace.”
Health officers are medical doctors; the only other licensed physician on Berkeley’s staff is Vicki Alexander, the city’s director of maternal, child and adolescent health.
Namkung said her top priority in Berkeley was connecting public health resources to schools. School officials said she was instrumental in the development of the Berkeley High School health center, which has been transformed from a tiny clinic to a full service facility that offers internists from children’s hospital, mental health case workers and peer support programs. The center was credited for Berkeley’s distinction last year as having the lowest teen birth rate in the state.
Recently Namkung has worked with the district to secure $210,000 in state funds to return nurses to Berkeley schools. She has also helped the district request money for mental health workers.
“Poki was the key [to getting school nurses],” said School Board Director Shirley Issel. “She saw the need and now we’re going to have three nurses.”
Namkung is the president of the Health Officers Association of California and vice president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.