Dr. Anju Goel has taken on the role of Berkeley’s interim health officer following the departure of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, who guided the city through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Goel was hired for the hybrid position in September for 18 months through 2025. She doesn’t live in Berkeley, but the hybrid role allows in-person and remote work. Hernandez received an annual salary of $303,649.89 in the health officer position, according to the Transparent California database. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko didn’t confirm Goel’s exact salary, but said the hourly pay scale for the position is $131.86 per hour to $149.79.
In an interview with Berkeleyside, Goel said her priorities are completing a citywide health needs assessment to determine the most pressing health issues impacting Berkeley and addressing mental health outcomes, which took a major hit during the pandemic.
“As a result of COVID, people have experienced more significant mental health problems, people have struggled significantly from the isolation, from the fear, from the anxiety, the unknown around COVID,” Goel said. “That was always a concern — mental health has not adequately been treated in the U.S. for a long time … it’s become even more of a concern now, because more people are seeking assistance.”
Goel grew up in the Midwest and attended Stanford University School of Medicine and Columbia University’s public health school. She’s worked in public health leadership for multiple California counties, including San Mateo, Marin and San Benito, as well as New York City.
She was a medical officer and public health consultant for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during COVID-19.
While the pandemic has dominated public health in recent years, Goel said her role covers other infectious diseases, like tuberculosis, the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and chronic issues impacting Berkeleyans, such as heart disease and diabetes.
COVID-19 is still circulating in the community, Goel added, though people have much stronger immunity from past infections and widespread vaccinations. The official public health emergency for the pandemic ended statewide in February, followed by the end of the federal emergency in May.
A new round of vaccines is available for the public, but the city no longer offers them for free, she said. Most insurance covers the vaccine as a regular immunization.
For the first time since 2018, Goel said the city is embarking on a community health assessment to determine the major health concerns for Berkeley residents based on categories like the prevalence of health conditions or related doctor visits. Paid roles will be available on the steering committee for the assessment, and anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Berkeley, or used to, can apply online.
The assessment will begin in January and should be completed by August. From August 2024 to May 2025, the health department will implement a community health improvement plan. Goel said she’s excited about the project, which comprises a “good chunk” of her new role.
“Once this process is all done, we will have a much better understanding of the current state of health in Berkeley, because we know that it’s changed very much in the last few years,” Goel said. “Even without a pandemic, five years is a long time — things change over that period.”
Under the Health Housing and Community Services department, headed by Dr. Lisa Warhuus, Goel will also collaborate on issues where environmental health and public health intersect, like foodborne outbreaks.
Staffing shortages are an ongoing problem throughout city departments, including the health department. Goel said she’s aware of these issues but is working with a strong team and hopes to grow it in the coming months.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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