Governor interviews three candidates for OHA director opening

Gov. Tina Kotek has interviewed three candidates in her search for the Oregon Health Authority’s next director, a high-profile job that leads one of the state’s largest agencies, the governor’s office told the Capital Chronicle.

The interviews, which all took place in mid-October, come amid a long search that became necessary after James Schroeder, Kotek’s first choice to lead the agency, resigned in March after less than two months on the job. A CEO at Medicaid insurer Health Share of Oregon, Shroeder left the private sector to helm the agency, which has a budget of more than $17 billion annually and more than 4,770 employees. 

The next director of the Oregon Health Authority will step into the role at a pivotal time for the state’s health care system. The state is implementing a new five-year Medicaid plan that will pump $1 billion in new federal money into a new endeavor to put money toward housing and food – not just health care – to improve the overall health of people. About 1.4 million people are enrolled in the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan, or more than one in three Oregonians.

Health officials are reviewing all Medicaid members to ensure they still qualify for the free health and dental insurance. So far, about 112,000 people have lost coverage out of nearly 808,00 who have completed the renewal process. And Oregon is in the midst of an addiction and drug overdose crisis, which is putting pressure on the health authority and behavioral health providers to find ways to reach and treat Oregonians.  

Beyond that, the agency is in charge of public health, which played a major role during the pandemic, regulates hospitals and medical marijuana, and has a slate of other tasks, like running the Oregon State Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital.

Its wide reach is reflected in a wide field involved in helping with the task of finding the right fit. Even a former Harlem Globetrotter is giving Kotek an assist.

In June, the state posted the job and started a national search, which drew more than 200 applicants, said Elisabeth Shepard, a spokesperson for Kotek’s office. The interviews with three finalists took place between Oct. 16 and Oct 18, Shepard said in an email.

Shepard would not say when Kotek will make a decision or identify the three finalists. The job posting remained open through Tuesday, allowing more people to apply, and potentially more interviews. The new director will get an annual salary that ranges from $163,356 to $253,308.

As the state awaits a permanent director, the authority’s chief finance officer Dave Baden is serving as the interim director. In a statement to the Capital Chronicle, Baden said he’s looking forward to welcoming the new director.

“The OHA director role is a demanding position, but it’s an exciting one,” Baden said. “No state is doing more than Oregon to protect and expand health coverage and reduce health inequities. Few states see the kind of involvement from community partners and a commitment to shared goals that you find here.”

Extensive interviews

The governor’s office has set up five panels that include about 30 people to interview finalists. One includes Kotek, Kotek’s chief of staff Andrea Cooper and Abby Tibbs, a senior advisor.

Tibbs is an Oregon Health & Science University lobbyist who is on loan to the governor’s office during the transition. The state is paying OHSU $20,000 a month for her services, according to a Lund Report article. That covers about 57% of Tibbs’ OHSU annual salary of nearly $339,000 and benefits of $76,041, which she continues to receive, the article said.

A second panel includes human services advisor Rachel Currans-Henry, health advisor Kristina Narayan, and Juliana Wallace, the governor’s behavioral health initiative director.

A third panel is made up of 12 state employees from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Human Services. A fourth panel includes members of the Oregon Health Policy Board, the Racial Justice Council and  directors from the Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services, Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

A fifth panel is made up of tribal leaders, including Julie Johnson, the authority’s tribal affairs director.

Recruitment firm involved 

Before Kotek started interviewing people, the state hired Motus Recruiting and Staffing, a Tigard-based firm, to assist in the search. In July, the firm hosted several so-called “listening sessions” that allowed people in the health care community to give feedback about what they’d like in a new director.

The Zoom-based sessions covered leadership style and what the health care system needs in the next five years.

Tibbs, the governor’s senior advisor, and Motus officials briefed the Oregon Health Policy Board on those plans at the board’s June 6 meeting.

It’s the first time in recent Oregon history the state has used an outside recruiting firm with a focus on equity-based hiring, Tibbs said.

The governor’s office declined to provide a timeline for hiring a director, but Tibbs said in early June that the goal was to hire a director within six months. That means a decision could be made within the next few weeks. 

The job is demanding and has had frequent turnover, with three directors in less than a year. While running for office in 2022, Kotek said she’d fire then-OHA Director Patrick Allen if she were elected governor. Allen resigned after the election and took a job at the New Mexico health department. And then Schroeder left.

“We’ve had a lot of directors over several years,” Tibbs told the board. “Certainly the Pat to James to Dave has created media that isn’t particularly helpful.”

Orlando Williams, the CEO and chief equity officer of Motus Recruiting and Staffing, also talked to the board. Williams’ career includes a three-year stint as a player for the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1990s. He also helped recruit prospective athletes to the University of Oregon and has worked at Nike.

“We want to get this right,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that we’re finding talent that represents the mission and vision of the future for OHA.”

Shepard, Kotek’s spokesperson, didn’t say how much the state’s contract with the firm costs when the Capital Chronicle asked on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.