With a budget of over $65 million and more than 400 employees, Deschutes County’s health services department has an important role in our local healthcare system. The county is our local public health authority providing a myriad of related services, including reproductive health counseling, communicable disease prevention, and environmental health inspection. The county also provides behavioral health services, including 24/7 crisis services through the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team and the stabilization center, as well as primary care services to county employees through the Deschutes Onsite Clinic (DOC) and pharmacy. Additionally, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office provides healthcare to inmates incarcerated in the Deschutes County Jail.
The county’s public health role has become much more visible in the past few years, its ability to prevent injury and illness extends well beyond COVID-19. For example, Deschutes County is home to the Prevent Diabetes Central Oregon, a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Other public health initiatives include tobacco prevention, adolescent health and development, suicide prevention, and Healthy Schools, an innovative partnership with Bend-La Pine Schools that places public health specialists in schools to promote healthy lifestyle choices, prevent bullying and suicide, and increase graduation rates.
While county staff continues to go above and beyond to deliver high quality health services to county residents, the elected Board of County Commissioners has consistently underfunded the county’s health services department. According to the county’s own 2022 adopted budget document:
“COVID 19 highlighted Public Health’s lack of resilience and redundancy in addressing protracted crises and shocks. Public Health had, and continues to have, limited staffing, funding, and the structural capacity necessary to provide a robust, long-term response to emerging diseases while maintaining essential services to the community.”Deschutes County Adopted Budget, Fiscal Year 2022 (page 170)
In the nearly eight years since it launched, Prevent Diabetes never expanded as planned due to its reliance on outside grants, and it is no longer accepting referrals due to lack of funding and leadership. The Healthy Schools program was renewed over the objections of board chair Tony DeBone, who has voted against this innovative program three years in a row.
Behavioral health services have similarly suffered from chronic underfunding, complicating the department’s ability to recruit and retain staff despite rising need throughout the county. Clinicians are drowning under unmanageable case loads and leaving for higher wages in the private sector. Access to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors has dwindled to the point where only those in extreme crisis can be seen. And our emergency departments are boarding psychiatric patients for weeks due to a dire shortage of residential treatment facilities, especially for pediatric patients.
Moreover, commissioners have interfered in reproductive health policy to advance a biased political agenda. For example, in 2018 the county benefits advisory committee recommended updating the county’s insurance plan to align with state law to cover abortion services, but commissioners Patti Adair and Tony DeBone voted to keep the policy unchanged. DeBone has bragged that he and Adair make sure health department employees “understand that they do have two right-to-life people on your commission.”
Deschutes County residents deserve better.
As a paramedic and a registered nurse with direct clinical and leadership experience in emergency services, urgent care, and primary care, Oliver is uniquely qualified to lead our local county’s health services out of the pandemic and chart a new course to a safer and healthier Deschutes County.