Widespread Outrage at Firing of the Oregon Health Authority Director of Equity and Inclusion

Confirmation that Leann Johnson has been fired by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) as its director of Equity and Inclusion has met with widespread outrage.

Johnson has confirmed that she was terminated after more than nine years in the position, ironically two days after Juneteenth, the national holiday that commemorates the end of slavery.


Backlash from Johnson Allies

The OHA’s vision for the future has been brought into question by Esther Kim, the director of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance which is a state funded organization. Her doubts are amplified by Mica Contreras, the executive director of the Linn Benton Lincoln Health Equity Alliance, who says Johnson’s dismissal has created distrust about the OHA’s handling of equity.

Social media sites like LinkedIn have also been used to focus attention of the Johnson furor.

A former co-worker of Johnson’s, Beth Sanders, describes Johnson as “a true equity leader” and goes on to express shock at the woman’s dismissal by the OHA. She is joined by a former Johnson employee, Danielle Droppers, who describes the incident as ‘disgraceful.’ Joining in is Liz Gharst, a former communications supervisor at the OHA who describes Johnson as ‘inspirational,’ and ‘she deserved better.’


Former Adviser to the White House Faces Many Challenges

Stepping into the firing line is Sejal Hathi (33), a former White House senior policy adviser on public health, who’s appointment as head of the OHA was announced by Governor Tina Kotek last November.

While coping with a barrage of criticism about Johnson’s departure, Hathi must also wrestle with a long list of challenges that includes a state-goal of ending inequities in health provision by 2030, a goal in which Johnson figured prominently.

In a press release, Sejal Hathi says she is committed to continuing the work that Johnson left behind. She described the Equity and Inclusion Division as vital to the OHA and to the communities it serves. Hathi adds that health equity is a practice everyone must strive to achieve.

A spokesman for Gov. Kotek’s office, Elisabeth Shephard, says the governor has every confidence that Hathi will commit to the priority of applying equity and racial justice to policy that enables the OHA and the state government to serve the people of Oregon.


Johnson was the Recipient of the Cheryl Boyce Leadership Award

Last year, Leann Johnson received the Cheryl Boyce Leadership Award that recognizes individuals from minority health state offices who demonstrate creativity, innovation, and outstanding vision in improving the health of ethnic minority communities.

Johnson served the OHA for more than 22 years, spending the last nine years as its Director of Equity and Inclusion. During her tenure, her staff contingent swelled from 22 to more than 80 employees, with a biennial budget that soared from $9 million to $53 million.




Morning Brief Newsletter
Sign up today for our daily newsletter, a quick overview of top local stories and Oregon breaking news delivered directly to your inbox
You can unsubscribe at any time
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.