Oregon Public Health Director Rachael Banks is leaving the state to head Multnomah County’s Health Department.
Multnomah County announced on Monday that Chair Jessica Vega Pederson has appointed Banks as director of the department, overseeing nearly $449 million annual budget and more than 1,595 full-time employees. She’ll also lead the county’s response to ongoing and emergency health issues and will be responsible for safety net programs.
Oregon Health Authority Interim Director Dave Baden announced the move shortly after the public announcement, in an all-staff email obtained under Oregon Public Records Law. In it, he credited her work tackling inequities and promoting public health modernization, among other things.
“Rachael’s return to Multnomah County is an unquestionable loss for OHA – I will miss her knowledge, wisdom and friendship,” he wrote. “But I know she will bring all the qualities that made her such an extraordinary leader at the state to her new role at the state’s largest health department."
He added that he’s asked state deputy public health director Cara Biddlecom to take on Banks’ old post on an interim basis.
Banks appointment, which requires approval from the Board of County Commissioners, amounts to a return for her. She was first hired by Multnomah County in 2002 and was later appointed director of its public health division in 2017. In that role, Banks led the county’s COVID-19 response before becoming Oregon’s first Black public health director in 2020, according to a press release.
“We enthusiastically welcome Rachael back to the County to lead our Health Department, the largest safety net provider in Oregon,” Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, said in a statement. “Rachael’s seasoned leadership – as well as her ability to scale up quickly because of her previous roles with us – is exactly what this department needs.”
There, she will replace interim director Valdez Bravo.
The Multnomah County Health Department is the largest local health agency in the state, operating 24 community health centers that serve more than 56,000 people each year. As department director, Banks will be in charge of responding to disease outbreaks, ongoing regional issues, as well as behavioral health programs and others.
Multnomah County had conducted a nationwide search for the position, drawing 43 applicants, according to the county.
“I look forward to bringing together the range of expertise across the Health Department and the county to implement comprehensive strategies to tackle our most pressing health issues and achieve the health outcomes our beloved communities deserve,” Banks said in a statement.