Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen Submits Resignation

Patrick Allen Oregon Health Authority director.jpg

This article has been updated with additional reporting.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen today submitted his resignation to Gov. Kate Brown, effective Jan. 9, and state Behavioral Health Director Steve Allen announced his own resignation soon after.

The resignations come a little over a week after the election of Tina Kotek as Oregon’s new governor. Kotek had intended to replace both Allens, citing criticisms of the agency’s transparency and oversight of behavioral health. The agency has been a magnet for criticism during the pandemic while battling the same staffing shortages faced by the rest of the industry.

The OHA director, who suffered a near-fatal accident in January, had quietly retired in May to protect his family’s death benefits, as first reported by The Lund Report. He had continued serving as director while drawing his pension, as allowed under state rules. Allen last month defended his record in an interview with The Lund Report, but said he would be willing to consider assisting the next governor with their transition if asked. His Nov. 17 resignation ensures that if he does assist the Kotek administration, it won’t be as the agency’s director.

The top official announced his resignation in an 11:15 a.m. email to staff.

“Honestly, I am sad to be leaving this work behind,” he wrote. We have much ahead of us still to do at OHA. While we have demonstrated that we CAN deliver real health equity as we did in closing our Covid-19 vaccine gap, we have a long way to go to allocate and reallocate power and resources in a way that recognizes, reconciles and rectifies the injustices and unfairness in our health systems. While we have made great strides to improve our behavioral health system, we have a long way to go, and the pandemic has made that path longer and much more difficult. Our recent Medicaid waiver is an exciting opportunity to provide benefits not available anywhere else in the country to address homelessness, hunger and climate change, but the work to deliver those new benefits will be hard.

“But, most of all, I’m incredibly proud of the ways I’ve seen people at OHA think about their work differently, and do their work differently in the time I’ve had the privilege to be in my role. Thank you all so much for your dedication, your heart, and your commitment to the people we serve.”

In his resignation letter to Brown, Allen also thanked agency staff as well as the other agencies and nonprofits that worked with them during the pandemic. “They have met every challenge with an unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of people in our state, especially during Oregon’s nationally recognized response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am humbled to have supported them and to have seen the life-saving impact of their work.”

He noted that he’d taken over the health authority at a time when the agency was battered by negative headlines and a mass exodus of talented employees.

“When you asked me to lead the agency in September 2017, OHA was in crisis. The agency’s relationships with stakeholders, legislators and the public had been ruptured and its credibility had been profoundly eroded.

“I brought the values that have guided me throughout my career – transparency, accountability and the wise use of public resources – to the task of rebuilding public trust in OHA.”

And he applauded the agency’s focus on health equity. “As we rebuilt that trust, we recognized that we could not fulfill our mission while so many communities throughout Oregon continued to experience unfair health disparities caused by historic and present impacts of racism, oppression and genocide. So, the leadership and staff at OHA set a goal to eliminate health inequity in our state by 2030.”

At 1:19 p.m. the director sent out an email announcing that behavioral health director had also announced his intent to resign effective in January. He called Steve Allen "critical" to fixing a "broken system."

“After reorganizing behavioral health to pull together disparate functions around the agency, Steve joined us from the Council of State Governments as our new director. Steve was a nationally recognized expert in the field, and impressed me, legislators, and our partners with his expertise, creativity and dedication. Over the past nearly four years, he has built an incredibly strong team, filled with talented, dedicated, passionate people who are working tirelessly every day to fix mental health and addictions treatment in Oregon while being equally committed to delivering our strategic goal of eliminating health inequities in Oregon by 2030. Steve and his team have delivered on the creation of Behavioral Health Resource Networks and distribution of nearly $300 million in funding promised by Ballot Measure 110. The team also has managed to distribute more than $1.1 billion in new investments the Legislature has approved this biennium, all while keeping faith with our commitment to allocate and reallocate power and resources to ensure those impacted by our decisions are at the table making them.

“Steve also leaned in heroically during the pandemic. At a time when COVID-19 was an emerging threat for Oregonians in long term care facilities, he and Jana Mclellan (then the deputy Child Welfare director at ODHS), stepped in to lead a joint-agency team to do whatever it took to protect these vulnerable people. There work was a demonstration of the “all hands on deck” approach OHA has taken to the pandemic, and was really a progenitor of the creation of the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Unit. Some have been unhappy that our rollout of restructuring and improvements to the behavioral health system have been slower because of this, but Steve’s willingness to address the crisis of a century mattered. There will be people in Oregon celebrating Thanksgiving with parents, grandparents and other older adults who wouldn’t be alive if not for the work of Steve and many others in the pandemic response."

Allen’s full resignation letter follows:

November 17, 2022

The Honorable Governor Kate Brown

254 State Capitol

Salem, OR 97301

Dear Governor Brown:

 I am writing to submit my resignation as the director of the Oregon Health Authority, effective January 9, 2023. It has been the honor and privilege of my life and career to serve you and the people of Oregon since 2017. Over the past five years, OHA’s staff and our many health care, public health and community partners have been tested in unprecedented ways. They have met every challenge with an unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of people in our state, especially during Oregon’s nationally recognized response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am humbled to have supported them and to have seen the life-saving impact of their work.

 The Oregon Health Authority has a vital mission: Under OHA, Oregon has united the regulatory, payment and policy-making tools of the state’s Medicaid, public health, behavioral health and health policy programs to give every person in Oregon the opportunity to achieve optimal health and well-being.

However, when you asked me to lead the agency in September 2017, OHA was in crisis. The agency’s relationships with stakeholders, legislators and the public had been ruptured and its credibility had been profoundly eroded.

I brought the values that have guided me throughout my career – transparency, accountability and the wise use of public resources – to the task of rebuilding public trust in OHA. Yet, as we rebuilt that trust, we recognized that we could not fulfill our mission while so many communities throughout Oregon continued to experience unfair health disparities caused by historic and present impacts of racism, oppression and genocide. So, the leadership and staff at OHA set a goal to eliminate health inequity in our state by 2030.

These values and priorities have enabled OHA to achieve so much during the past five years, achievements that will improve health and the quality of life in communities across the state:

  • In 2020, OHA issued new contracts for the coordinated care organizations) that deliver care to more than 1.2 million people on the Oregon Health Plan and receive more than $7 billion per year in state and federal health care funding. These contracts strengthened CCO accountability to expand access to behavioral health and other services for OHP members and successfully shifted CCO service area boundaries without any disruption in services to members.
  • Over the past five years, Oregon has expanded health coverage to all children and to other vulnerable people. Today, more than 95% of people in Oregon are covered by OHP, Medicare or a commercial health plan. The Oregon Health Plan now covers nearly 1 in 3 Oregonians.
  • Driven by your vision and leadership, OHA recently negotiated a new Section 1115 Medicaid Waiver with the federal government that once again catapults Oregon to the forefront of health care innovation in the United States. Under the new waiver, Oregon will expand and extend health coverage for children and adults, provide ground-breaking Medicaid benefit coverage for housing assistance and food and coverage for services and supports that will help people in Oregon navigate the health issues caused by climate change.
  • Despite battling a global pandemic, OHA has shored up Oregon’s behavioral health system and laid the foundation to expand services. By the end of 2022, OHA will have spent or obligated nearly $1.2 billion of the $1.35 billion Oregon lawmakers appropriated for the 2021-2023 biennium to transform the behavioral health care system. Today, every county has an organized network of providers who are working together to offer a full range of services to people with substance use problems – from harm reduction to treatment to housing.
  • When the COVID-19 global pandemic came for Oregon, we took urgent, responsible, science-based public health actions that prevented more than 5,000 deaths. Oregon has held cases to the second lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the nation. Oregon’s COVID-19 death rate is eighth lowest rate among all states. Oregon’s COVID-19 response was ranked 5th most effective among all state by the Commonwealth Fund, a national health grant-making and research foundation.
  • Oregon has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the United States. But more importantly, Oregon has closed inequities in vaccination rates for communities that are among the most hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Oregon, more than eight in 10 people (81 percent) in the Latino, Latina, Latinx community are vaccinated, nearly the rate of white Oregonians (82 percent). Today, 95 percent of Blacks, African Americans and African Immigrants in Oregon are vaccinated. No state in the nation has posted a higher COVID-19 vaccination rate for the Black community.

I have been honored to serve the people of Oregon through these challenging times. I have been proud to support the staff at OHA, so many of whom have spent long hours away from loved ones working to save lives and protect Oregon communities through an unrelenting series of crises.

Finally, I have been fortunate to serve a Governor who cares about health and health equity. You have made hard choices that enabled us to save thousands of people in Oregon and navigate the worst health crisis our nation has faced in more than a century. I appreciate the integrity of your leadership and all the support you’ve given me and the staff at OHA.

Sincerely,

Patrick M. Allen

Director


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

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