Pearson to succeed Nakamura as director of public health

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Karen Pearson has been appointed the new director of public health to replace Dr. Peter Nakamura.

Pearson served as Nakamura's deputy director since 1997, and took over as acting director when he retired.

Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue said she chose Pearson because she was familiar with the state's important health projects.

''I didn't do an exhaustive search because we have so many projects that we're in the middle of that I thought Karen was the best person to pick up the agenda and keep it moving,'' Perdue said.

On the top of Pearson's list of tasks is talking to legislators about the need to add $2.3 million to the state health budget for the next fiscal year. The money would be used to add two microbiologists to Anchorage's new public health lab, one physician and four nurses to the state Section of Epidemiology, and 11 public health nurses, bringing the state's total to 125, Pearson said. These medical professionals would look into the reemergence of tuberculosis and new cases of hepatitis C and other diseases, she said.

Pearson, 49, of Juneau, has tended people's health needs worldwide. After earning a bachelor's degree in education from South Dakota State University, she joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Jamaica to teach family planning and sanitation skills. She returned to South Dakota, worked for the departments of health and education and later earned a master's degree in nutrition and planning from South Dakota State. She also earned management credentials from Simmons Graduate School of Management in Boston.

Pearson moved to Alaska and became the nutrition director for the Section of Maternal, Child and Family Health. She served as the section's chief from 1991 to 1997, and then became the deputy director of public health before her promotion Feb. 5.

As health director, Pearson will make $83,628. Nakamura was earning $103,872 when he retired. Pearson is earning less because Nakamura is a physician, and Pearson is not, said Janet Clarke, director of administrative services for the health department.

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