5 Things Oregon: Herd immunity, Rep. Moore-Green, Workforce report

We are now covering state health policy in 15 states, providing more independent coverage of state and market-level health care coverage than any outlet in the country, so far as we can tell. It’s a long way from our first story on Oregon health care back in 2012!

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With help from Emily Boerger

1. Rep. Moore-Green discusses policy priorities

Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Behavioral Health, says this session she is focused on “Setting the foundation for properly assessing the state’s resources to address the mental health issues that have persisted for many years and have only been exacerbated by COVID-19.” To help accomplish this goal, she is co-sponsoring HB 2313 which would direct OHA and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to take inventory of statewide resources available to prevent and treat substance use disorders.

Moore-Green is also a chief sponsor of HB 3036, a bill that would remove the requirement that Physician Assistants practice under a supervising physician, and instead put in place “collaboration agreements” with care teams. The House Committee on Health Care heard testimony on the bill last week where the bill received support from OAHHS, the Oregon Society of Physician AssistantsZoom+Care along with conditional support from the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians.


2. Implications of “chronic COVID”

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chris Murray, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), where I learned something I didn’t know. Based on newly released data from the Novavax COVID vaccine trial, being previously sick with COVID-19 appears to offer no protection from being infected with the new South African strain of the virus.

Without cross-variant immunity, Murray says this data indicates we may be moving to a “world of chronic COVID” where every winter we treat COVID as we do the flu. I outline three immediate things that will change for us in this column. Perhaps the most important is this: hospitals and their current financing models are in trouble. Video of my full conversation with Murray is available here.

3. What can we expect next with the vaccine rollout?

After prioritizing Phase 1A and teachers for the last two weeks, COVID vaccinations for those 80 and older opened up this week. OHA Director Pat Allan warned of chaos with the continued vaccine rollout, but also noted that “the federal supply has now improved such that we think we are going to be able to be through 75% of everybody who is eligible now, including seniors, which is about 1.3 million people by early April.”

In comments to State of Reform, a Senate Republican Caucus spokesperson, Rep. Maxine Dexter, and Jessica Guernsey, public health director at Multnomah County Health Department, offered their takes on the vaccine rollout and what to expect in the days ahead. “I would say that the worst of it is behind us,” says Guernsey. “We’re all working regionally and statewide quickly to try and have a more coordinated approach.”


4. Workforce report finds lack of diversity

OHA’s recently released, biennial workforce needs assessment finds the state’s health care workforce needs increased diversity and better geographic distribution. Hispanic/Latinx, African American/Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native providers are underrepresented in most licensed health care professions, particularly among behavioral health providers where people of color make up just 13% of licensed behavioral health providers despite accounting for 24% of the population.

The report identifies four specific workforces needed to create an equitable, integrated health care system: traditional health workers, health care interpreters, behavioral health providers, and oral health providers. Findings from the report will be submitted to the legislature and will then be used to inform the use of the Health Care Provider Incentive Fund.

5. What the data says about us

Recent US economic data shows 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since 1946. In Oregon, 58.1% of 2.7m responding to a recent survey said they felt “down, depressed or hopeless” at least “several days” in the last week. 13.9% of Oregonians received “counseling or therapy from a mental health professional” in the last seven days. However, another 13.1% said they “Needed counseling or therapy from a mental health professional, but did not get it for any reason.”

Of those responding, 12.1% said they were in households with children where “sometimes” or “often” there was not enough food to eat. Of those yet to receive the first dose of the vaccine, 23.4% say they may not get it at all, and 10.6% of those say they will “definitely not get a vaccine.” Another 16.1% say simply they “Don’t believe I need a vaccine.”