BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Behavioral Health Director Stacy Kuwahara will be taking the position of Kern County Chief Operations Officer.

Born in Bakersfield and a Highland High School graduate, Stacy Kuwahara has worked with the county since 2008 working her way up from a volunteer to director of Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services.

“In the time that I took more administrative roles, I got to work with our administrative functions of the department and really run a very large organization,” Kuwahara said. “Kern BHRS is a huge department, it has over a thousand employees, it has a very large budget.”

She is a graduate of the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s in psychology, and received a Masters in counseling and psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her education background led her to deal with one of Kern’s biggest problems: mental health.

“I want to bring my knowledge of what we’re seeing on the street and some of the issues we’re facing not just from the mental health perspective but from the community perspective,” she said.

“A lot of homelessness is being managed at a city level, but there are very unique components when you look to our rural cities and how they have to deal with homelessness, because it’s really a problem that exists throughout the county, it’s not just in Bakersfield.”

Homelessness is a challenge that Kern County Administrative Officer James Zervis knows well. Zervis held the Chief Operations Officer position before he was promoted last month to County Administrative Officer.

“So with new people the dynamics shift, right, when you add someone at a management role especially to a team, it tends to shift the team’s perspectives a little bit, and it also helps bring new ideas, creative ideas, and that’s really one reason why I asked Stacy Kuwahara to come join our team,” Zervis said.

“It’s because she is a creative, inspirational leader.”