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Kotek taps OHSU lobbyist to help run Oregon Health Authority

State will pay Oregon Health & Science University $20,000 monthly for its employee’s services
The Oregon Health Authority in Salem. | OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY
March 23, 2023

This article has been updated to incorporate reporting on Tibbs' university compensation package.

A longtime lobbyist on loan from Oregon Health & Science University, Abby Tibbs, will help Gov. Tina Kotek run the Oregon Health Authority in the wake of former interim director James Schroeder’s unexpected resignation.

Tibbs took leave from Oregon Health & Science University on Nov. 22 to help Kotek with her transition and stepped down from her post as vice president of public affairs on March 1. Her assignment by Kotek to the health authority is significant for reasons that go beyond the agency’s role of overseeing health care for the 1.4 million people who belong to the Oregon Health Plan.

While Kotek already has health policy and behavioral health advisers working with Oregon Health Authority leadership, Tibbs will be more embedded within the agency, working with the new interim director, Dave Baden, attending health authority meetings and making sure managers inside the agency are making progress on Kotek’s agenda — which includes significant behavioral health reforms.

Her role as an additional set of eyes and ears for Kotek inside the agency is also significant because it comes amid lingering questions over why Schroeder suddenly tendered his resignation from the state on March 2 citing a desire to focus on family.

 “Having a seasoned hand like Abby Tibbs helping out at OHA makes a lot of sense for all involved,” Dr. Bruce Goldberg, who formerly served as director of the agency, told The Lund Report.

Though Kotek has announced that a national search will be conducted to replace Schroeder, it’s unclear if a replacement will be found quickly, and nor is it known how long Tibbs’ assignment will last.

Tibbs was on leave this week and was not available to discuss the change, according to Kotek’s office. Asked if there is an expected end date for Tibbs’ assignment, Kotek Press Secretary Elisabeth Shepard responded that the arrangement with OHSU “permits two years.”

On leave, but still on the payroll

Tibbs is now effectively on loan, and will continue to receive her normal OHSU benefits and pay while the state pays the health system and teaching hospital nearly $20,000 a month in return for her services. The sum funded by the state covers only a portion — 57% — of the compensation she receives from the university, which totals $338, 715 in pay as well as benefits valued at 76,041, according to OHSU.

The state’s agreement for Tibbs’ services describes her duties as helping Kotek craft a budget. But her job description changed with Schroeder’s departure as of March 17. 

Asked to explain Tibbs’ reassignment to the health authority, Shepard wrote in an email that “Abby has deep experience with organizational management and is best qualified for her role, which includes a variety of assignments including supporting our budget work, helping onboard staff, as well as her work with the Oregon Health Authority.”

Baden announced Tibbs’ new role in a March 20 email to health authority staff. “As part of Governor Kotek’s support for our agency, Abby Tibbs, who serves as Senior Advisor for Governor Kotek, will be working directly with OHA for an extended period serving as an advisor to me and helping our division leaders advance the Governor’s priorities,” he wrote. “Abby is a lawyer by training and brings decades of experience in executive level positions in public affairs and operations for complex government organizations. Abby will join many of our meetings. I appreciate the Governor’s support and the expertise that Abby brings to this work.”

Tibbs’ experience and connections in the Legislature likely won’t hurt, though she halted her lobbyist certifications upon going to work for Kotek. A former legislative and Congressional staffer, she briefly assisted former-Gov. Kate Brown with her budgeting while on loan from OHSU in 2016.

Tibbs' work for the Brown administration sparked reports about potential conflicts of interest because OHSU receives significant funding through the Oregon Health Authority and the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan, and the potential conflict was not disclosed using the state’s normal process.

This time around, however, the Kotek administration and Tibbs filled out the necessary forms noting that OHSU, a governmental entity, does not constitute a business with which Tibbs is associated and thus does not trigger a conflict of interest under state law.

According to an OHSU spokesperson, “to avoid any appearance of conflict, Abby has a conflict of interest plan and does not participate in any discussions or decisions regarding OHSU or its budget … (she) has no active engagement in OHSU business.”

As long as state ethics laws are followed, loaning employees with expertise like Tibbs is “within the realm of normal” and can be helpful to agencies, said Jim Moore, a professor of politics and government at Pacific University. That said, he said it could be difficult for Tibbs to stay completely away from matters that have an effect on OHSU.

The Tibbs assignment is one of several moves Baden announced in his March 20 email. Yoni Kahn, who’d come over to the health authority with Schroeder from Health Share to serve as Schroeder’s chief of staff, will move over to work on the Oregon Health Plan. His previous position has not been filled.

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