Oregon Health Authority’s new director promises to bring grit and commitment to role – Oregon Capital Chronicle

Dr. Seyal Hattie will take the reins at the Oregon Health Authority in January, becoming the agency’s fourth leader in about a year.

As a first-generation American and primary care physician, she will lead one of Oregon’s largest and most influential agencies, with a budget of more than $17 billion annually and nearly 5,000 employees. The role includes overseeing Medicaid, public health, health care systems, Oregon State Hospital and making decisions that affect the lives of most Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable.

Her appointment comes at a time when the state is struggling with widespread drug abuse and a lack of treatment options. It is reviewing the eligibility of one in three Oregonians for Medicaid and preparing to expand free health and dental insurance. At 33, she will follow in the footsteps of three middle-aged white men who have overseen the Oregon Health Authority in just over a year. She said at an online press conference that she is up to the challenge.

This is a country and a team that embraces my values ​​of fairness, evidence-based policy, innovation and relentless improvement. I have had my eye on Oregon for a long time and could not be more excited to make the state my home, Hattie said.

Hattie, who describes herself as a doctor and public servant, acknowledged that she might encounter some resistance because of her age, which she said has come up before.

I have no illusions about the path ahead. I know it will be hard and long and full of challenges, but I am committed to that journey, she said. I know, at the same time, that there is no age requirement to do the job. My job is to keep and deliver on the promises that the state made, that the governor made to the people of Oregon.

She has served in a number of high-profile positions in recent years, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes in quick succession, after earning master’s degrees in business administration and medical education from Stanford University. She counseled him UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on health care policy, cared for patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, including during the pandemic, served on the faculties of Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, and was a senior White House adviser on public health.

In July, she got up New Jersey’s deputy commissioner of public health services, about a month after Gov. Tina Kotex’s office posted the job posting. Kotek hired a Tigard firm to lead the nationwide search for her first hire, James Schroeder, a physician assistant and Medicaid Specialist, Terminate Unexpectedly After Two Months. Hattie indicated that officials in Oregon approached her about the job.

The role will mean expanding responsibilities. In New Jersey, she said she managed a budget of $2 billion and a staff of 1,000, five times less than at the health department. She pointed out that her months in New Jersey and earlier in the White House gave her experience navigating bureaucracy, which in Oregon often means solving problems by forming task forces that study them and lead to meetings with advocates, lawmakers and community members. .

I similarly had to argue for very difficult perspectives and bridge silos, entrenched silos to push the work forward, she said. It is that grit and dedication that I will bring to this role.

She said she hopes to serve two terms as governor. The previous longtime director, Patrick Allen, resigned in January to allow Kotek to appoint his own health care leader.

Top priorities

Hattie said he intends to hold the agency accountable while focusing on Kotex’s health care priorities. They include expanding Medicaid services to include housing and food at a time when the agency is reviewing the eligibility of its 1.4 million members. With the end of pandemic-related benefits, the federal government is asking all states to review members’ income and other eligibility requirements. Oregon has one of the highest retention rates nationally in this major layoff, according to KFF health newsalthough there were some omissions including raising hundreds to eligible low-income individuals and children outside of Medicaid.

The government also aims to eliminate health inequalities by 2030. The state needs more health care workers, especially in behavioral health and addiction services, and hospital services in areas have declined, are shrinking or consolidating. But perhaps the biggest problem is the state’s behavioral health system, which has been underfunded for years. Oregon has been consistently ranked in national-level analyses, including by Mental Health Americaas having the highest incidence of mental illness and among the fewest treatment options.

Critical to that end will be ensuring that we invest adequately and responsibly, not only in treatment services, but also in the environmental navigation, social services, housing that we know underpin the success of our behavioral health programs and that in many ways cause bad behavior. health outcomes, Hattie said.

In 2021, the Legislature invested $1.3 billion in residential expansion and the recruitment and retention of behavioral health professionals. Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated about $80 million for residential treatment and addiction services, community health and related services at the Oregon State Hospital, which mainly treats people accused of crimes who cannot help. in their defense without health care. The director is responsible for making sure that money is put to good use and reaches those who need it, something that has not always happened in the past.

State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland and a primary care physician, applauded Hattis’ appointment.

Dr. Hattie’s impressive experience on the front lines and in public health policy will be essential as OHA undertakes to implement the next generation of health care policies and programs, Steiner said.

In her role, Hattie will work with the state’s 15 regional coordinated care organizations, which serve as Medicaid’s insurers. A spokesman for one of the largest, CareOregon, welcomed her appointment.

Having a new leader will help our team and countless others, from public health to health systems, continue to build Oregon’s vision for a health system that puts people first. We were excited to hear that Dr. Hattie is aligned with this vision. We were eager to continue this partnership and welcome OHA Director in her role, Becca Thomsen, spokesperson for CareOregon.

Fixing what is broken

Oregon’s approach to Medicaid and other innovations is partly why Hattie said he was drawn to the state. She indicated that she would bring a new perspective to the job. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with her parents Indian origin.

My parents, both born and raised in Africa, arrived in this country with little more than a passport and growing dreams, my father as a political refugee from Uganda and my mother as the youngest of eight in Tanzania, and the fruit of their travels. , their quest to achieve the American Dream, Hattie said.

She said she accepts their desire for a better life.

From my youngest years I have been obsessed with fixing what is broken, finding, understanding, reforming those structures and institutions that entrench social inequalities and compress human potential, she said. This is a country and a team that embraces my values ​​of fairness, evidence-based policy, innovation and relentless improvement. I’ve had my eye on Oregon for a long time and couldn’t be more excited to make the state my home.

A year ago, she married Shiel Thiel, founder and CEO of global venture capital firm Amplo, according to his LinkedIn profile.. Thiel is also first-generation American, with Indian parents, and graduated from Stanford and Harvard with White House connections. Thiel was a member of former President Barack Obama’s delegation during his 2016 trip to Cuba.

Hattie said he expects to spend the first weeks or even months meeting with doctors, nurses, social workers, peer specialists and community-based organizations to ask them what the agency should be doing, not doing, and what it should expand on. to improve health care in the country.

While I may not have grown up here, that doesn’t mean I don’t share a burning desire for our families to be healthy, successful and safe, Hattie said. I want to serve my community and all Oregonians who rely on state programs with rigor, urgency and thoughtfulness. I want to accelerate and focus our pursuit of health equity. I want to get as much value out of every taxpayer dollar we spend.

She starts Jan. 16 and will earn an annual salary of nearly $222,000.


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