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James Schroeder’s team at Oregon Health Authority takes shape

New director vows continued “transformative” change with new faces in top roles
James Schroeder has been busy assembling a new team to lead the Oregon Health Authority. | COURTESY OF HEALTH SHARE OF OREGON
February 28, 2023

New director James Schroeder’s team at the Oregon Health Authority is taking shape, with a leadership team marked by some old faces and many new ones.

Last week, when the authority announced Dana Hittle would become the permanent Medicaid director for the agency, it was hardly surprising — the 22-year state veteran had been doing the same job as interim since June 2021 and served as deputy for three years before that.

But she will constitute one of only a few holdovers in high-level positions in the agency.

Hittle will provide continuity as the Oregon Health Authority works to implement new federally-approved rules for theOregon Health Plan, which serves low-income Oregonians, and as the agency  culls the plan’s rolls to meet federal eligibility requirements that will resume over the coming year-plus.

“At a time when we’re working hard to protect and expand health coverage in Oregon, it’s paramount that OHA has an experienced leader like Dana to successfully guide our state’s Medicaid initiatives,” Schroeder said in a press release. “I look forward to working with her on the transformative projects we have ahead of us.” 

Besides Hittle, Schroeder has so far retained two other core officials who had worked under the previous administration, the agency’s deputy director Kris Kautz and chief financial officer Dave Baden.

Beyond that, there’s been change. Not long before the public announcement about Hittle, Schroeder shared internally that a higher-profile agency official, Dr. Dana Hargunani, was moving on. Hargunani, the agency’s chief medical officer and a regular at press conferences, had spearheaded equity efforts and crisis care standards under the tenure of Schroeder’s predecessor, Pat Allen. But, Schroeder wrote, she left “to take some well-deserved time to focus on herself and her family and consider future opportunities after the intensity of the past few years.” 

The position remains vacant.

Another top official, Margie Stanton, also left. Since 2018, Stanton oversaw the agency’s Health Systems Division, which was formed years ago to integrate physical and behavioral health. To replace her, Schroeder is promoting Shawna McDermott, the agency’s behavioral health strategic operations director, to hold the position in an interim capacity, he announced in a Feb. 22 all-staff email.

There, she’ll work with Hittle as well as Ebony Clarke, who Gov. Tina Kotek on Jan. 6 announced would be behavioral health director — a key position to implement reforms promised during the gubernatorial campaign. But both Hittle and Clarke will report directly to Schroeder rather than to McDermott, he announced internally.

Jackie Fabrick, a former health authority manager who has been working in government affairs for Providence Health & Services, is coming back to work in the behavioral health division as a “strategic projects director.”

“I want to say that I understand this continues to be a lot of change, and I know change can be hard,” Schroeder wrote in his Feb. 22 all-staff email. “I appreciate your patience as we make these transitions, and I appreciate the work you do each and every day.”

Kotek named Schroeder to the top job in December; he’d previously served as CEO of Health Share of Oregon, a regional insurer contracted to serve the Oregon Health Plan. In early January, as his chief of staff, Schroeder brought in Yoni Kahn-Jochnowitz, who had served with him as director of public policy and communications at Health Share of Oregon. Allen’s chief of staff, Dawn Jagger left the agency in early January to take a position as a senior policy advisor with the federal Administration for Children and Families.

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on Twitter.