Gov. Kate Brown taps Pat Allen to take over troubled state health care agency
Gov. Kate Brown has tapped Patrick Allen to replace Lynne Saxton at the troubled Oregon Health Authority until a permanent director is found.
Allen, who has headed the Department of Consumer & Business Services since 2011, brings a reputation as a can-do, straight-talking leader who is not afraid to move aggressively — qualities that would serve him well in tackling several high-profile issues at the state health care agency.
The health authority, which oversees care for 1 million low-income Oregonians in the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan as well as numerous other programs, has become Brown's biggest political albatross as she prepares to run for reelection next year.
The agency has suffered enrollment problems, IT problems and the news that a significant portion of the people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan are not currently eligible. Meanwhile, the agency's staff has undergone a high rate of turnover and suffered from low morale.
On Aug. 8, with Saxton already facing criticism on several fronts, Brown pushed her out in the wake of a Portland Tribune article detailing a secret plan to plant negative articles about a Portland-area nonprofit, FamilyCare, that is contracted by OHA to serve Oregon Health Plan members. Drafted in January, Saxton's plan was intended to dissuade lawmakers from coming to FamilyCare's aid in a rate dispute with Saxton's agency.
In response to widespread recriminations after news of the plan broke, Saxton blamed her staff and claimed it was shelved due to concerns over its tactics — notwithstanding an email in which she greeted the most aggressive draft of the plan approvingly.
While Saxton's resignation was effective Aug 31, much of her team remains, including Chief Financial Officer Mark Fairbanks, external relations director BethAnne Darby and communications director Robb Cowie.
However, the health authority is lacking a permanent Medicaid director, as well as a chief medical officer.
As acting director, Allen will have the authority to hire and fire .
"I'm honored the Governor thought of me for this," Allen said. "I look forward to being able to get into the agency and work hard to begin to bring transparency and a focus on wise use of taxpayer dollars to the agency. Those are really the two things that I'm going to focus on."