Behavioral Health Director to Leave Oregon Health Authority

Word of Royce Bowlin’s planned departure comes shortly after OHA Director Patrick Allen announced a reorganization of the agency.

The Oregon Health Authority’s behavioral health director, Royce Bowlin, is resigning effective July 3, prompting concern from advocates that high turnover in recent years is detracting from efforts to address addiction and mental health in the state.

Bowlin was hired in October 2016, and was part of OHA’s policy team. His replacement will get a new job description and increased responsibility as part of a reorganization announced earlier this month by agency director Patrick Allen.

Mental health advocate Kevin Fitts told The Lund Report that, while Allen’s proposed reorganization holds promise, he’s concerned about the loss of experience that Bowlin’s departure represents.

"It's a tremendous loss of continuity, relationships, network,” Fitts said. “How long does it take you to get acquainted with coordinated care organizations structures, the owners and managers of the CCOs and the behavioral health leadership underneath them. Then you have 30-odd counties in the state, they all have county mental health directors. How long does it take to understand the system, all the players and the internal structure?”

The Oregon Health Authority has struggled to recruit and retain mental health leaders in recent years. In February, it announced that Dolly Matteucci would lead the Oregon State Hospital, which serves about 600 psychiatric patients and has a $250 million annual budget. That position had been vacant for over a year.

Officials plan to conduct an external search for Bowlin’s replacement, who will also get a new job description.

“The Oregon Health Authority is changing the way we manage behavioral health services to ensure more Oregonians get the mental health treatment they need, when they need it,” OHA spokeswoman Saerom England said in an email.

“The next behavioral health director will be accountable for leading a range of programs that are now spread across our agency,” she said. “Over the past few years, this fragmentation made it harder to manage mental health programs. Bringing mental health and substance abuse programs back together will help the next director have more impact. This change will improve coordination in our agency, collaboration with treatment providers and services for the more than one in six Oregonians who need mental health treatment.”

Fitts said he sees advantages to changing how behavioral health is managed by the state.

“Previously there was a behavioral health services manager over here and a policy manager over there, and it was like having two captains at the behavioral health system,” Fitts said. “It was very frustrating for advocates to understand.”

But he also sees an advantage in how behavioral health was historically run. “Prior to the CCO structure, we had three people in this role over 25 years. When one retired, their deputy would step up and take over. That continuity has been washed out to sea – the relationships, the knowledge,” he said. “I don't have anything negative to say about the current director, but it is a shame he will not stick around.”

Bowlin’s departure is voluntary, OHA officials said.

“We are grateful for the collaborative relationships he has built with our external stakeholders and his guidance over many of OHA’s behavioral health accomplishments over the last couple of years,” England said. “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Reach Courtney Sherwood at sherwood@thelundreport.org.