October 6, 2023
The County Commission approved Rachel Banks as the next health director on Oct. 5, bringing the leader who led Oregon and Multnomah County’s public health efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic to the top of the list of issues facing the county today. He expressed confidence that the United States will be able to address the serious challenges facing Japan.
After a national search, Chairwoman Jessica Vega Pederson moved to appoint Banks, currently the Oregon Department of Public Health director, to lead the department. She started as a culturally specific community health worker, rose to public health director, and then held a mid-term statewide leadership role. 2020.
Banks will oversee 1,600 full-time Department of Health employees across five divisions: Public Health, Behavioral Health, Integrated Clinical Services (a large primary care and dental clinic system), Correctional Health, and Health Officers.
Like health services across the country, health departments are struggling in the post-pandemic era, facing acute staffing shortages while behavioral health and substance use disorder needs soar.
“Our health department deserves a leader like Rachel at this time,” said Commissioner Vega Pederson. “We believe in a future that includes health, wellness, and safety as achievable goals, especially for Multnomah County residents, who are currently most vulnerable. And we need Rachel’s unique perspective to lead us on this path.” We need a sense of value.”
“Rachel, welcome home,” said the Chair.
Commissioner Sushila Jayapal echoed the chair’s enthusiasm, saying: “I would argue that you are qualified to intervene again in a time that is in some ways even more complex and difficult. The response to the global virus is unprecedented. But now that that has receded to some extent, we are faced with all the really deep challenges that once existed and were exacerbated by it.”
Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards also voiced her support after meeting with Banks to discuss the fentanyl crisis. Brim-Edwards noted that fentanyl killed 26 county residents in 2019, rising to 209 in 2022.
“As I speak with you, I believe you are the person who will move Multnomah County forward in a leadership role to address these crises, and you value both innovation and bold action,” she said. “And I think that’s exactly what we need.”
Chief Operating Officer Selina Cruz thanked everyone who has helped move Banks forward, including Jenny O’Meara, the county’s talent acquisition manager. Karasu Consulting led the nationwide recruitment. Harold Odhiambo, chairman of the Community Health Center Committee, the patient-majority board that manages the Multnomah County Health Department’s community health centers.
Banks will fill the vacancy created when then-Director Ebony Clark left in January 2023 to lead the Oregon Health Authority’s behavioral health division.
Mr. Cruz and Commissioner Vega Pederson gave a special thank you to Health Department Operations Director Valdez Bravo and Deputy Operations Director Chantelle Reed, who are new to the county and serve as interim health director.
However, Cruz also reflected on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and said that during his previous role at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, Banks served a disproportionate number of people in the Latino/Latinx community. He said he was watching people grapple with illness and death.
“I can say we breathed a huge sigh of relief because we felt like we were seeing, being heard and being prioritized as the pandemic affected our community.Rachel, you were so important at the time. It had a huge impact on me when I was unstable and unsafe. And I know you have had that impact on many other community leaders across the state,” Cruz said. .
Mr. Banks thanked the board, his mother, mother-in-law, sister in the audience, Mr. Bravo and Mr. Reed, and all Department of Health staff members who came to the board meeting, including Mr. Banks’ first employment with the county in 2002, Amy Gredler. expressed his intention.
“I love the Department of Health,” Banks said. “I know firsthand how dedicated people are, how passionate people are, and the beautiful communities we serve. It’s about restoring and really helping to stabilize a workforce that has worked hard and dedicated to the community, working long hours in shortages.”
“It is also a top priority to stop the unnecessary and devastating overdoses we are seeing in our communities and the behavioral health crisis that people are talking about,” she added.
Finally, Mr. Banks said he would work with the chair and commissioners in his role as county health board to “help Multnomah County be its lead strategist and lead our team in solving some of its most complex challenges.” He said he is looking forward to “really stepping into the role.”
Board members present then unanimously approved Banks’ appointment. (Commissioners Lori Stegman and Sharon Meylan were absent for the meeting and vote.)