Oregon’s top health care official has announced he’s leaving after less than two months on the job.
James Schroeder, interim director of the Oregon Health Authority, submitted notice of his resignation this week.
“I have been honored to shepherd the agency during this time of transition,” Schroeder wrote in a resignation letter dated Thursday. “However, I have decided I will not pursue the permanent director position. My family is the center of my life and I recognize the demands of this role are not compatible with the focus I want to give to them.”
Not only will Schroeder not seek to hold the OHA directorship permanently, he’s not necessarily staying around until Gov. Tina Kotek’s administration can find a replacement. His last day is March 17.
The departure came as a surprise to Capitol observers who deal with health care issues. It likely also was unexpected for OHA staff, as Schroeder acknowledged in an email to agency employees Friday morning.
“I know this news may come as some surprise,” he wrote. “However, I want you to know I am proud of the transformative work you do everyday.”
Schroeder’s resignation risks leaving a major agency leaderless just as Kotek has signaled forcing improvements to the state’s troubled behavioral health care system is a major focus of her administration.
The governor’s office said in a release it will launch a national search for a new leader beginning Friday, but it’s not clear Kotek will be able to find a new director within the next two weeks. Andrea Cooper, the governor’s chief of staff, told OHA employees in an email the governor’s office would announce a new interim director and engage staff members in the search for a permanent leader.
Kotek did not request Schroeder’s resignation, spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard said. In a statement, the governor thanked Schroeder for his work.
“Improving access to mental health and addiction services remains a top priority for my administration, and I’m looking forward to bringing on a permanent director who will lead the agency in carrying that work forward,” Kotek said.
Schroeder was Kotek’s choice to take the place of former OHA Director Patrick Allen, who led the agency through the tumultuous early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kotek signaled on the campaign trail she would fire Allen if elected. He resigned instead and is now the leader of New Mexico’s health department.
Schroeder brought decades of health care experience into the role. Prior to being tapped by Kotek, he was the CEO of Health Share of Oregon, the state’s largest Medicaid insurer.
He took the helm of an agency that has seen its share of troubles, most recently in a flawed rollout of funding tied to the state’s drug decriminalization measure, and in ongoing staffing and capacity issues at the Oregon State Hospital. Kotek has appointed a new behavioral health director, Ebony Clarke, who will deal more directly with those problems.