‘Now’s the time to make a difference’

Grant Berghan brings a wealth of experience to his new role as CEO of the Public Health Association of NZ.

Mr Berghan who was in public health for 25 years is from the Tai Tokerau region with whakapapa links to Ngapuhi, Ngati Wai and Te Rarawa iwi. He has extensive experience in the health and labour market sectors, and more recently has been involved in regional economic development activity in Northland.

Hauora asked Mr Berghan who joined PHANZ in October about his decision to return to the public health field, what some of his priorities and goals for the organisation.

Mr Berghan who was a past member of the Maori Advisory Board (Public Health) with the Ministry of Health also discusses the leading role NZ has taken in responding to Covid-19 and how this can be extended to resolving other major issues such as poverty and racism.

Hauora: After 25 years working in public health, you have said this is a bit of a return to your roots. What prompted you to return to this field, and how much influence on your decision to apply, did Covid-19 play?

Grant: It’s interesting how these things play out. I had spent the last five years working in regional economic development, based in Northland. The role of the CEO for the PHA came up just as I was looking for a change, so I jumped at the opportunity. Covid-19 did factor into my decision to apply. Our “go hard go early” response has proven to be an effective strategy, and New Zealand is seen as a world leader in responding to Covid-19. I think we can easily leverage this success into other areas of public health.

What are some of your first priorities in this role?

Grant: There are a number of priorities, but they will revolve around the two big ones of climate change and addressing poverty. Everything else will fall out of those two. For us as an organisation, we’re going through a bit of a reset after a challenging year. I’m keen to build our capacity and capability at national office (so we can execute the work programme in front of us) and to grow our membership throughout the country. I’m waiting on Government’s response to the Simpson Review of the Health and Disability sector – that response will inform some of our tactics over the next three years. I’m keen also to work with others to provide a joined-up public health leadership response to the Review of the Health and Disability Sector.

What goals do you have for the PHA and how confident are you in achieving those?

Grant: The three big goals relate to growing our organisation, strengthening relationships with others, and executing a plan of action that address our priorities over the next three years. I’m confident we can achieve those goals but do not underestimate the challenges that we will face in doing so.

You said upon your appointment, that NZ has shown itself to be a world leader in responding to Covid-19, and that opportunity extends that leadership to include poverty, homelessness, racism, and other social and economic determinants of health. Can you elaborate on this please?

Grant: We have done really well managing Covid-19. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot be a world leader in resolving poverty, racism and the other big issues that confront us. What is required is the political will, ambition and courage to do so and the means to enable that. The Government has been given the mandate by this country to govern on its own. If ever there has been a chance to make a difference, now is that time.