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DHS news release

Aug. 22, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Grant Higginson, M.D., 971-673-0494

DHS takes steps to improve emergency medical services program, hires new program leadership

The Oregon Department of Human Services has hired Robert Leopold as director of the state Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Systems Program.

Leopold will play a significant role in accomplishing efforts already under way to improve emergency medical and trauma services across the state, which is a DHS priority and integral to its emergency preparedness activities.

"Robert will provide much-needed vision, leadership and management to the emergency medical and trauma services program," said Susan Allan, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., state public health director in the DHS Public Health Division. "His skills and experience are very strong. An important component is his demonstrated ability to work with community partners and build consensus among divergent stakeholders."

Leopold comes to Oregon from the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department, where he held several high-level administrative positions, most recently serving as the acting chief deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Regulation and Licensure. For 11 years he directed the agency's Emergency Medical Services Division and helped transform it into an effective operation, including development of the state's trauma system. He also was extensively involved in public health preparedness activities. Leopold holds a master's degree in Community and Regional Planning and a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Nebraska.

"Our hope is that Robert will be able to use his Nebraska experience to build a system that serves Oregon," said Allan. "We're very much looking forward to the skills and experience he brings to this issue."

Also starting work this month is Ritu Sahni, M.D. He is the first-ever Oregon EMS/TS medical director and will provide support for both program staff and local EMS medical directors. Other improvements designed to strengthen the state's emergency medical services program include a new Web-based trauma registry and an online pre-hospital data base for use by ambulance agencies.

These changes are the result of recent national and state assessments that found significant shortcomings in Oregon's state and local emergency medical services and trauma system, noted Grant Higginson, M.D., M.P.H., administrator of community health and health planning programs in the DHS Public Health Division. "The findings were particularly troubling, given that Oregon's system was once considered a model for the country," he said.

Some of the areas cited as needing improvement and the related recommendations for Oregon were:

  • Preparedness and response -- strengthen linkages between EMS/TS agencies and emergency preparedness at state and local levels.
  • Training and technical support -- increase state services so local programs and providers can improve their skills without disrupting their daily work in communities.
  • Compliance -- speed up state processes for certifying providers and agencies, and for investigating complaints.
  • Medical direction -- provide local medical directors with templates, guidelines and improved access to appropriate continuing medical education.
  • Evaluation and quality assurance -- improve these processes at the local, regional and state levels.

The DHS Public Health Division is working with legislators and stakeholders to reform and improve emergency medical services and trauma systems, noted Allan.


"We're making steps toward improvement, and Robert's and Ritu's arrivals will stabilize leadership at the state level," said Allan, "something that has been sorely needed."