Kotek taps out-of-state public health leader for OHA director post 

Dr. Sejal Hathi, a New Jersey public health deputy commissioner, will be the next director of the Oregon Health Authority, taking over the mammoth state agency that provides Medicaid coverage to more than one in three Oregonians.

Gov. Tina Kotek announced the appointment on Monday, which comes five months after the state posted the opening and eight months after James Schroeder, Kotek’s first hand picked director, resigned in March after less than two months on the job.

In July, Hathi, 33, started to work as a deputy commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Health and has also worked in the White House. She will lead the Oregon Health Authority, which has a budget of more than $17 billion annually and more than 4,770 employees. 

She will start on Jan. 16.

“Dr. Hathi brings a rare combination of extraordinary qualifications to this role – from frontline experience as a physician, to shaping policy in the White House, to founding two nonprofits focused on women and girls leadership,” Kotek said in a statement. “I am grateful she is bringing her experience and talent to serve Oregonians.”

Her arrival coincides with a time of transition and growth: The state is preparing to launch a new five-year Medicaid plan that will inject $1 billion in new federal money toward housing and food – not just health care – to improve the overall health of people and address the social determinants of health. About 1.4 million people are enrolled in the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan.

Hathi joined the New Jersey Department of Health as the deputy commissioner for public health services. In that role, she oversaw epidemiology, environmental and occupational health, family health services, and other public health divisions, including HIV services, women’s health and opioid response. Shortly after she was hired, the head of the department retired. It’s not clear whether that played a role in her decision to apply for the Oregon spot.

She said in the release that she was “both excited and humbled to be a part of the ground-breaking advances in health care access that are happening in Oregon. At the national level, all eyes are on Oregon and the steps this state is taking to expand health coverage and tackle root cause issues, such as the social determinants of health.”

Prior to New Jersey, she was the White House’s senior policy advisor for public health, which includes public health preparedness, the medical supply chain and climate health policy.

A board-certified internal medicine physician, Hathi has been an assistant professor on the faculty of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 2013, Hathi was appointed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expert advisory group on women’s and children’s health, tasked with evaluating the global progress against maternal and child mortality. 

Hathi received her medical degree and master’s of business administration from Stanford University. She received a bachelor’s degree with honors in molecular biology from Yale University.

She trained in internal medicine and primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital while also serving on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. During her residency, she cared for COVID-19 patients.

She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with parents of Indian origin from Uganda and Tanzania, according to a Daisy and  Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, which she won in 2013. She grappled with anorexia when she was young that prompted her to create a nonprofit at the age of 15, called Girls Helping Girls, that spurred a worldwide movement.

As director, she will earn $221,868 a year. 

About the search

In October, Kotek interviewed Hathi and two other finalists for the job. As part of the interview and vetting process, five panels with about 30 people were involved in interviews. They included officials from the Oregon Health Authority, agency directors, tribal officials and members of the Racial Justice Council and Oregon Health Policy Board.

More than 200 people applied for the job, which was posted in June.
The director job has had high turnover. Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen resigned after Gov. Tina Kotek was elected in November 2022. While running for office, Kotek said she’d fire Allen. 

Since Schroeder left the health authority in March, the agency’s chief finance officer, Dave Baden, has been filling in as the interim director. He’ll continue to work at the authority as a deputy director.

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.

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter’s news team: [email protected].

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.