As Oregon continues to contend with the pandemic, health care workforce shortages, and the impending loss of Oregon Health Plan coverage for hundreds of thousands of people, the state’s next governor will have no shortage of health care crises to tackle.
The Lund Report reached out to top contenders in the 2022 gubernatorial race to see how they’d address the state’s most pressing problems related to health care. Here’s how Democratic candidate George Carrillo replied to our questions:
What specific policy would you pursue to improve health care for Oregonians?
In summary, the Oregon Health Authority’s mission is as follows: “Ensuring all people and communities can achieve optimum physical, mental, and social well-being through partnerships, prevention, and access to quality, affordable health care. OHA’s vision is to have healthy Oregonians.” OHA’s core values include: Healthy Equity to all Oregonians through inclusion, respect of diverse cultures and population and to address clinical and social conditions, historical and contemporary injustice which undermine health. Service Excellence to Oregonians by delivering responsive, efficient and effective solutions. Integrity: accountability for maintaining high standards and outcomes in all aspects of work including informed, fiscally responsive, with public dollars. Leadership: lead, help, improve and transform health care and realize a healthy Oregon through innovative strategies and creative solutions. Partnership: collaborate with partners and diverse communities by seeking out, listening, protecting and promoting a healthy Oregon. Innovation: utilize creativity, experience and openness to search for and develop new evidence to evolve our health practices and lastly is transparency: honest, open, transparent and open access for meaningful opportunities to engage in our decision making process.
However, our government and health care system have failed our BIPOC and marginalized communities. Our government and health system have not provided equitable access to health care services, education, preventative care, and have not been willing to listen, recognize or rectify historical injustice, discrimination and undermined health needs for BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S and other marginalized communities. For this reason, I support HB 4052. I believe all Oregonians should have equitable access to health-related care, educational supports, preventative care, and services that are impacted by racism. We must be inclusive. We must provide culturally and linguistically services to our diverse communities across Oregon to improve health outcomes.
Oregon is simultaneously in the midst of addiction and behavioral health system crises. What is your plan for ensuring Oregonians have access to treatment when they need it?
Substance abuse and behavioral/mental health is a crisis in Oregon because we continue to criminalize individuals that suffer from these medically diagnosed illnesses that, when untreated, lead to police contact and incarceration. We need to be able to adequately staff Measure 110. We want people with lived experience to be part of the process to ensure our Oregonians who are suffering get the help they deserve, and eliminate individuals to re-incarcerate. We all know that incarceration does not equal rehabilitation. We must listen to our Community Based Organizations and the work/collaboration they are doing with our vulnerable and at times dangerous individuals that are lost in their battle with addiction and mental health challenges. We must meet people where they are at. We need to treat them with dignity and respect at each and every contact because you never know, that day could be the day that someone wants or needs help. Building trust and being available to provide support and services when that individual is ready is critical. As governor I will make sure that CBO’s are adequately funded and staffed. There will be trained medical and mental health professionals to provide person-focused and wrap-around services that can include any combination of the following: alcohol and drug treatment services; in-patient, transitional support A&D treatment and/or out-patient treatment; medication management; psychiatric supports; and peer support that will be strength based. Goals for achieving health, well-being and self-sufficiency will be person-focused. Much of the support will be to teach life skills, such as emotional regulation, healthy problem solving tools to manage life stressors, budgeting, building a healthy support system, identifying and knowing reactive of addictive traits that could lead to relapse and having a plan to for sustainable sobriety and mental health well-being. Additional support that will also include employment training, self-advocacy, transition services and adequate cultural and linguistic support for BIPOC and other marginalized communities.
What does Oregon need to do to rebuild its public health system — and strengthen it — to address disparities and improve equity?
The Oregon Legislature needs to give the power back to Oregonians. We must listen to the people, to our Community Based Organizations that are out there everyday meeting with our most vulnerable population and know the barriers and needs of our communities. Government has to shift the way that decisions are made and bring CBO’s and those directly experiencing hardship to the table. Government must listen to the people, empower the community and be willing to implement new strategies to improve or reform the public health system so that it benefits the overall health and wellbeing of all Oregonians.
About 300,000 people must exit the Oregon Health Plan over the coming year because their incomes exceed the threshold, and Oregon is in the early stages of developing a bridge plan to cover a fraction of them — the working poor who make up to twice the poverty level . Do you agree with those who say Oregon needs a more ambitious “public option” plan covering people with incomes four times the poverty level?
I believe in health care for all because you can’t place value on someone’s life. I will sign into law a Medicare for All, single-payer, health insurance program. I will ask the Legislature to provide me with a bill that has been approved by the task force within my first 100 days.
Oregon’s public health response to the pandemic has been criticized from different perspectives. What is your take on what worked well and what didn’t?
The challenge and barrier to vaccination and herd immunity was that the COVID pandemic was heavily politicized and not viewed as a global humanitarian crisis. The government failed to see that this is a global humanitarian need to save lives and focus on Oregonians’ well-being and overall health to sustain our health system and economy. Oregon’s public health was not prepared to serve the public. Health care workers did not have adequate PPE to stay safe. We did not have a pandemic mobilization plan or strategy to collaborate with the expertise of the National Guard. There were not enough health care workers to meet the demand of the pandemic and allow sufficient recovery time by creating a separate leave balance when medical staff becomes ill with COVID-19. Similar to the inclement weather policy.
View responses from other leading gubernatorial candidates in Oregon’s 2022 election here.