A new state agency tasked with helping people who deal with childhood trauma and other mental health issues will soon be up and running.

Earlier this month, Gov. David Ige signed Senate Bill 2482 into law, creating the state Office of Wellness and Resilience – the first in the nation.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who introduced the legislation, said he’s hopeful that the office will bring down the rates of arrests, prostitution, suicide and student suspension that often are blamed on psychological trauma. He also expressed hope the office will help resolve systemic problems.

“This is a good step forward,” Dela Cruz said Friday in a phone interview. “We look at a lot of the symptoms, but what we should probably be doing is looking at the root causes.”

But he said the work is far from over.

KUPU Net Shed press conference with a small crowd on hand.
Lawmakers and stakeholders discussed a new state office on wellness and resiliency. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The Legislature appropriated more than $894,000 to create the Office of Wellness and Resiliencc, a semi-autonomous state agency established temporarily within the governor’s office.

The office will be led by an executive director, who will be appointed by the governor. The governor will fund staff positions from other executive branch agencies to appoint additional staff for the office. And the state department director can assign additional employees from their offices.

Dela Cruz said that’s a starting point for the new agency, although it can’t be attached to the governor’s office forever. He also said that the new office may be moved to the Department of Human Services or another department.

The office will be in charge of addressing the physical and emotional well-being of people in the state by coming up with concrete solutions. It also must seek federal funding, create a team to streamline existing department grants and funding management and create an electronic dashboard to look at the needs that “impede quality-of life-outcomes.”

The office will also work with organizations and stakeholders, as well as the Trauma Informed Care Task Force, an advisory group under the Hawaii Department of Health that will give recommendations to the new agency.

“We’ve known the suffering many of us struggle with, including historical and cultural traumas, has very real effects on our health status individually and as a whole,” Tia Roberts Hartsock, the chair of the task force setting up the office, said at a press conference.

“We better understand how long-existing traumas, as well as newer community traumas like Covid-19, impact how we respond to stress, and we are striving to map out ways we can connect our state’s workforce and the families we serve to practices that promote wellness and build resilience,” Hartsock added.

The office must submit annual progress reports to the Legislature.

The legislation received support from several state agencies and community organizations.

Laurie Tochiki, executive director of EPIC Hawaii, said critics might call the legislation “fluffy” but the intentions are good.

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