PORTLAND, Ore. — With a new year comes new appointments to key positions, including the Oregon Health Authority. James Schroeder has officially stepped into the role, and is already taking aim at some of the biggest issues affecting Oregonians.
During his first day in the lead position Schroeder named his top issues: affordable health coverage, housing access and mental health care.
Schroeder began his career as a primary care doctor, but was most recently employed as the CEO of Health Share of Oregon, before being appointed to the role of OHA Director by Governor Tina Kotek.
Schroeder replaces Patrick Allen, who left the position on Jan. 2 after five years in the lead role to become New Mexico’s secretary of health.
Schroeder set the course for his time at the helm of the agency on Jan. 10, outlining what he sees as the state's main shortcomings: hospitals jammed with respiratory virus patients, and others unable to be discharged because of mental health needs or long-term care requirements. He also blamed elicit substances like methamphetamine and fentanyl for exacerbating mental health concerns, and causing death on the state's streets.
Schroeder also identified shortcomings with the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid insurance program. He made his concern known for people who are denied coverage because of small changes in their income. He also called on other agencies to fill the void as federal pandemic funds continue to dwindle.
The new director set the following goals for OHA under his leadership:
- Maintain OHP coverage for those who have it, and as pandemic funds are exhausted, make sure vulnerable families have options.
- Implement the state's updated Medicaid program.
- Help communities statewide develop behavioral health care that can meet their communities specific needs.
Schroeder wants OHA to put a bigger emphasis on providing preventative medicine like checkups and vaccines to at-risk populations, and making these services more accessible to those enrolled in OHP. Part of this commitment to preventative health, he says, is eliminating health inequalities.
A lion's share of that work is underpinned by the second goal that Schroeder has laid out. The state's updated Medicaid plan is good through 2027 and does a variety of things. It aims to provide more services to historically disenfranchised groups and the homeless. It's also geared towards ensuring people can maintain their coverage despite temporary changes in their eligibility, and improving the overall quality of life for residents.
Schroeder has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska. He also completed a community health leadership program at the University of Washington and an executive leadership program at Harvard Business School.