Seven days into his new position as Administrator at the Newton County Health Department, Larry Bergner is adjusting to Missouri after a lifetime spent in Oklahoma.
"I'm happy to be here, continuing my career in public health," he says. "I was born and raised in Oklahoma."
Bergner has worked in the public health field for decades and brings his combination of education and experience to Newton County.
"I have a degree in chemistry and a minor in math and biology," Bergener said. "I have a Masters in Public Administration." "I began work in Oklahoma City in 1992 as a public health specialist, inspecting restaurants, then moved to Enid, joined state department of health in 1996."
In 2002, Berner relocated to Claremore where he covered 17 counties overseeing food, motel and swimming pool inspections as well as animal bites. Then, in 2015, Bergner was promoted to become Administrator over six counties based in Claremore. Last July, Bergner said he wasn't ready to retire but he wanted to seek out other opportunities.
"Neosho came open and I applied for it," he said. Despite moving from Oklahoma to Missouri, he soon found it's not as different as he expected. "You know, I find a lot of similarity. I was nervous - happily relieved to find the terminology, the programs are much the same as in Oklahoma so I think it will be an easy thing to transition too. I'm excited about it - and I'm glad to be here. It's a fairly easy transition"
Bergner has been married for what he termed "going on 27 years. His wife is a 3rd grade teacher in Oklahoma who is both nationally board certified reading specialist and has a Masters degree.
The Bergners have three daughters and one son. His youngest daughter will be a high school senior next year and wants to graduate from Adair. His two other daughters are in college and one will graduate with a nursing degree in the spring. His son is the youngest at age 9.
For now, Bergner is commuting. "It's a pretty easy commute, about an hour and ten minutes," he said. "I'll commute and then after my daughter graduates, we'll move over to Neosho."
While still getting acquainted with the area, Bergner has found much he likes about Neosho and Newton County.
"I love its' closeness to Joplin, to Branson - about everywhere," he said.
According to Bergner, the Newton County Health Department has a strongWIC program and he plans to keep it robust. In addition to the programs and services already in place, including immunizations, water testing and more, Bergner would like to provide more health opportunities in the community.
"For example, I'm talking to someone about starting a free couch to 5k walking program - we did it in Oklahoma and it was very successful. We're in the initial stages of that - I'm definitely looking toward that. We'll start it in Neosho and I would like to branch it out in other communities in the county."
Bergner lists his flagship issues as anti-smoking and vaping, anti-tobacco use, children's health, good nutrition, obesity, opioids, and children's health. He would like to possibly bring in programs focusing on mental and behavioral health.
"I want to be a part of the community, a participant partner," Bergner stated. "I want to be involved in the community and would like to have the health department be as involved as we can be. I would like to be involved in the schools as far as the schools want to use us as a resource."
One of his career achievements was being named Sanitarian of The Year in Oklahoma. In addition, two of his health departments, in Washington and Rogers counties, were named health department of the year.
"I'm excited to get out there and get going a little bit," he said. "We encourage the citizens to come by and visit, to see what services we provide. We are a department for everyone - we hope to provide services for all the population. My vision is that we would have a walking program but also offer diabetes and nutrition education. I want to add to what we already have - making ourselves readily available to the public and providing what the public expects of us in the way of health related activities."
Bergner is pleased with his staff.
"The staff has been extreme friendly, supportive and enthused," he said. "I see a lot of enthusiasm.
The staff has been very wonderful and I'm very happy to be here. I'm blessed to be a part of this organization. I want to thank my staff for making me feel right at home and helping me through this.
I hope to bring enthusiasm and excitement to public health."
The Newton County Health Department is located at 812 West Harmony in Neosho. They can be reached by phone at 417-451-3743. Hours are from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.