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News Release
OHA director concludes 7-stop statewide visits in Eastern Oregon - 06/05/24

June 5, 2024

Media contact: Larry Bingham, Oregon Health Authority, 971-239-6499; Larry.Bingham@oha.oregon.gov

OHA director concludes 7-stop statewide visits in Eastern Oregon

Pendleton, Ore._On a sunny afternoon in downtown Pendleton, staff from the Eastern Oregon Center for Independent Living non-profit gathered with partners, funders and clients to mark a milestone years in the making.

While a food truck served tacos, and the crowd milled around tables stocked with information about substance use treatment, HIV testing and harm reduction resources, a special guest made her way to an impromptu stage hung with a red ribbon. Oregon Health Authority Director Sejal Hathi, MD, MBA, said it was an honor to cut the ribbon on new transitional and emergency housing at one of the few facilities like it in Eastern Oregon.

“I know there are people in your community who do not always understand your work,” Dr. Hathi told attendees. “But I want you to know I see you, and OHA sees you, and your work is making a difference.”

Dr. Hathi’s words came on the last stop in a series of seven visits to communities around Oregon. The goal of the listening sessions was to provide local public health partners, coordinated care organizations, providers, community-based organizations and community members an opportunity to tell the new OHA director about their needs and priorities and how OHA can support and facilitate their work.

From Pendleton to Astoria, and Medford to The Dalles, she heard from “the people who have rolled up their sleeves and are doing the work” and their concerns about access to health care, the overdose crisis, and racial and geographic inequities, among other issues.

In rural Eastern Oregon, one immediate need is more emergency and transitional housing for people who are houseless and seeking treatment for substance use disorder or harmful substance use, like the facility celebrated in Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Other issues heard during meetings with providers, community-based leaders, local public health and mental health authorities, and the CCO in Eastern Oregon included difficulties with funding models that don’t scale down for sparse populations, the challenges of operating remote clinics and small hospitals, a shortage of health care workers, particularly OBGYNs, and the travel cost of providing care in a landscape where towns are hours apart.

“As I have started my new role at OHA, my priority has been to listen, to learn, and to partner with Oregonians to design the best solutions to our shared challenges,” Dr. Hathi said. “I am grateful to everyone who attended one of the sessions, shared their ideas and innovations, their concerns and complaints. Working together, I sincerely believe we can improve the health and wellbeing of everyone in Oregon, no matter where they live.”

OHA will release a report this summer highlighting what Dr. Hathi has heard during these regional visits and how OHA is addressing the issues raised.

Click here to watch the video. Additional resources and B-roll can be found here.

Sejal Hathi Visit thumbnail

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