Portland, OR. (KTVZ) — As James Schroeder begins his new position as director of the Oregon Health Authority, he’s already taking aim at some of the biggest issues affecting people’s health in the state: affordable health coverage, access to housing, and mental health care.
Schroeder, a primary care physician who last served as CEO at the state’s largest coordinated care organization, Health Share of Oregon, acknowledged the current “acute” challenge to Oregon’s health care system: Hospitals are overwhelmed with respiratory virus patients. Many patients cannot be discharged from hospital because they lack housing, mental health treatment or long-term care.
In a Jan. 9 open letter to the Oregon health care community, Schroeder called for “deeper, long-standing problems” weighing on communities across Oregon.
Too many people find themselves on the street, in prison, or hospital because they are in crisis and can’t find the behavioral health treatment they need.” Too many people die in preventable deaths from fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other dangerous substances. On health coverage in recent years, we return to a time when small changes in income could cause working families to bounce in and out of the Oregon Health Plan, especially as federal pandemic coverage and funding expires.”
Schroeder, who was appointed by Gov. Tina Kotick, serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Oregon National Guard and group medical unit commander at Portland Air Force Base. He took his new position at the OHA on January 10, replacing Patrick Allen, who left Ohio on January 2 after five years to become New Mexico’s Secretary of Health.
In the open letter, Schroeder describes himself as a “community primary care physician deeply rooted in advocating for social justice and health equity.” These roots included providing clinical care to uninsured, Spanish-speaking rural patients “who often drove more than 50 miles each way to see me so they could speak to someone who spoke their language.”
“To this day, I have a deep respect for their strength and resilience, and an unwavering commitment to breaking down the barriers to caregiving that so many families still face,” he said.
At OHA, Schroeder said he will focus on protecting health coverage, implementing Medicaid waivers in Oregon and raising the bar on behavioral health. He said the agency will apply these values in pursuit of the agency’s highest priorities:
- Maintain coverage for all 1.4 million people now enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan (and who remain eligible) as the federal pandemic emergency ends, and ensure that economically vulnerable working families transitioning from the OHP have affordable coverage options.
- Implementing Oregon’s flagship Medicaid waiver program and realizing its potential to interrupt many of the root cause problems that undermine health and quality of life in communities statewide.
- Help communities across the state develop a behavioral health care system that is able to meet the needs of people who are suffering or in crisis.
In addition to social justice and health equity, Schroeder wants to help OHA continue its collaboration with local and international partners–as it has done as a community health practitioner–to address the state’s biggest health issues. But the agency must do more to hold partners accountable for achieving better results, “rather than documenting compliance with process measures and outputs through cumbersome reporting.”
“Stimulus payments to college administrators have reduced avoidable emergency department visits and increased children’s immunization of mental health program members,” he explained. “We need to measure and reward better results across all of our systems.”
One thing won’t change under his leadership: OHA’s commitment to eliminating health inequality in Oregon by 2030.
“Oregon State has proven that it can be done,” he said. “Today, the COVID-19 vaccination rate for Latinos is on par with whites, and the COVID-19 vaccination rate for Black people, Africans, and African Americans outpaces both groups. I will do everything I can to keep the agency focused on health equity and sustain partnerships.” community that made these gains possible.”
Schroeder holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska. In addition, he completed the Community Health Leadership Program at the University of Washington, and the Kaiser Executive Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.