Oregon’s Next Behavioral Health Director Seen as Collaborative, ‘Truth Teller’ – Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ebony Clarke, who has family experience with addiction, plans to take a collaborative approach to a high-profile job: addressing Oregon’s mental health and substance abuse crisis.

Government-elect Tina Kotick announced Friday the appointment of Clark, director of the Multnomah County Health Department, to lead the OHA’s behavioral health division.

Clark has made her mark on behavioral and public health in Oregon’s largest county with her care through the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on vaccinating minority communities and expanding access to mental health services.

As the new Director of Behavioral Health, she faces the task of addressing Oregon’s mental health crisis and shaping state policies and programs that will have an impact for years to come.

Oregon’s behavioral health system is facing a crisis that includes a high rate of addiction and limited access to treatment and programs that can serve people and help them recover.

Clark, 45, will leave Multnomah County on Feb. 3 and replace outgoing Behavioral Health Director Steve Allen, who began the job in 2019 and worked alongside OHA Director Patrick Allen, who took a similar job in New Mexico. Her appointment was among several other employees announced by Kotek on Friday.

Clark is Kotec’s second-ranking medical officer. James Schroederthe new interim director of the Oregon Health Authority, is the former CEO of Health Share of Oregon, the state’s largest Medicaid insurer.

Clark was director of the Multnomah County Department of Behavioral Health, formerly the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, from 2018 to 2020, when she became interim director of the Health Department. She was appointed Permanent Director of Health for the county in 2021. She has worked for the county since 2010 as Deputy Director and Director of the Children’s Mental Health Care System.

Its business portfolio is diversified. She helped establish COVID-19 vaccination clinics for low-income and disadvantaged people, including people of color. Communities. Clark convinced the Multnomah County commissioners to declare racism a public health crisis in April 2021. Clark also helped launch the Multnomah County Behavioral Health Resource Center, which opened in December and serves more than 1,000 people a week in downtown Portland.

“I am honored and privileged to have been called on to take on this role,” Clark said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “I know it’s time, and we’re in critical times. What I’m aware of is that we have to succeed. We have to see the results that we’re looking for and we have to be able to move forward with real solutions and meaningful impact. I know it’s a scary role.”

She faces an enormous task. Oregon has one of the highest rates of addiction in the nation, and surveys usually rank the state among the last in terms of access to treatment and services.

Behavioral health providers in Oregon are struggling to retain and recruit staff to meet demands, both at Oregon State Hospital and in private programs across the state. Hospitals sued the Oregon Health Authority for leaving civilly obligated patients in private hospitals for extended periods of time instead of in a state hospital. The state hospital is subject to a federal court order to admit people who are in jail and who need treatment more quickly in order to face criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the system is growing. Oregon lawmakers have set aside $1.35 billion in 2021 so that the state has more resources, whether through housing facilities or other programs like incentives to encourage people to train and enter the field. Most of this money is being allocated, but the state is still working on programs. Lawmakers say the state needs to do more to help Oregonians, whether through direct treatment or more housing programs.

Clark said solutions can be found within communities across the state and that the state needs to be flexible.

She stressed that Oregon State needs a collective approach as it looks to improve the system.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Clark said. “The strategies we devise and move forward have to be flexible enough to meet the individual. Humans are unique and complex, and so we can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to what we do. There really, really has to be a collective approach to what we do.”

In a farewell email to staff on Friday, Clark said community connections are key to health — and fairness must remain front and center.

“Everyone in our community deserves health,” Clark wrote. “And that’s what we help members of our community access and preserve, especially those who don’t have access to the tools, connections, and services that it requires.”

In interviews, people who have worked with Clark say she takes a collaborative approach and listens for input.

Former Multnomah County Chief Deborah Cavoury said Clark is making efforts to include input from people who have faced mental health difficulties when developing programs and policies.

“She doesn’t just rant about it,” Kafoury said. “I’ve already done that.”

The Behavioral Health Resource Center is one example of this approach, Kafouri said. The center caters to homeless people struggling with mental health or addiction crises, providing them with a safe place to get off the street for refreshment, shower or eat. Software information.

“This is just one of the many things I’ve been able to do,” Kafouri said. “She walks her talk. She knows the importance of involving people with lived experience in creating programs and policies that affect them.”

In another instance, Clark created the Office of Consumer Participation for behavioral health work in the county. The office conducts outreach and works with peers and people who are consumers in the behavioral health system to amplify their input.

Kavori said the effort helps ensure that “their voices aren’t just an afterthought but are actually an important part of the conversation.”

Clark was born prematurely in Portland, and her mother used drugs throughout her pregnancy. Clarke had opioids in her blood when she was born and spent part of her early childhood taking them to her adoptive parents, relatives and hospitals before reuniting her with her mother at a residential treatment center, according to Posted profile Multnomah County. She attended her mother’s 12-step meetings when she was older and eventually headed the county agency that helped her mother.

Kevin Fitts, a longtime mental health advocate in Portland and the statehouse, said Clarke’s work in Multnomah County — her background and life story — makes her a compelling candidate for the job.

“Her live experience is profound, and I think it shapes her conscience,” Fitts said. “She’s a cry of truth and I think she has a noble commitment to being honest and forthright and that’s refreshing.”

Clark said her story is one of her inspirations.

“It drives my commitment to doing everything I can do to make this a better Oregon for all Oregonians,” she said.

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