Oregon names new public health director amid virus pandemic

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday announced Rachael Banks as its new public health director.

She’s held the same position in Oregon’s most populous county since 2017, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Banks will be tasked with leading the state’s public health division amid the coronavirus pandemic, while improving racial and ethnic inequalities. She starts Oct. 27 and is replacing Lillian Shirley, who had said she’s retiring.

Banks is “a leader with professional acumen combined with lived and worked experience around promoting equity,” Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said in a statement.

Allen called Banks’ attributes necessary as the agency attempts to make “meaningful progress on health equity while guiding the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — and continuing to advance programs that promote the majority of health that happens outside the doctor’s office, such as reducing chronic diseases, ensuring clean air and water, and urging immunizations.”

Banks has led Multnomah County’s response to the coronavirus including policy development, and leading the development of health metrics for Black, indigenous and people of color, according to the state.

Banks voiced strong opposition to the Oregon Health Authority’s decision to publish data about coronavirus cases by ZIP code, warning of potential stereotyping from disclosure and saying the location of exposure is more important than where someone lives.

In her new role, Banks will oversee a state public health division that includes 767 positions, including Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and state epidemiologist.

Banks, 41, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in public administration, according to the state. She began working for Multnomah County in 2002.

Her salary at the Oregon Health Authority will be $207,000 annually.

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