Sept. 29, 2020
Longtime health equity champion replaces Lillian Shirley, who’s retiring
PORTLAND, Ore. — Rachael Banks, who has served as the Multnomah County Health Department’s public health director since 2017, has been named director of the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division.
Banks begins in her new role Oct. 27. She replaces Lillian Shirley, who is retiring this week after serving in the position since 2013.
OHA Director Patrick Allen called Banks “a leader with professional acumen combined with lived and worked experience around promoting equity.” These qualities are necessary as OHA makes “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.”
Advocating for health equity has been a major part of Banks’ career at Multnomah County since she began there in 2002. She has worked to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, hepatitis C and drug overdoses, and provided injury prevention education to families in populations unfairly impacted by health inequities. She also helped enforce Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act that created smoke-free workplaces to protect employees and the public, and she’s promoted health and equity by helping community organizations develop policies to reduced chronic diseases.
Banks has partnered with coordinated care organizations, health systems and insurers to improve how pregnant African-American women transition from clinical to community-based care. And she helped develop Early Learning Multnomah, an early learning hub that ensures kindergarten readiness for children of color ages 6 and younger.
As deputy director of the county’s Public Health Division, she helped develop its first disparity-focused Community Health Improvement Plan and led a unit that enacted culturally specific strategies in the African American/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Native American/American Indian, Pacific Islander and immigrant/refugee communities. She’s also well known for her work as principal investigator for Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), a chronic disease prevention program reaching 75% of the Black population.
Banks has led Multnomah County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as public health director, including developing policies, securing resources and mobilizing the division’s workforce, and leading the creation of metrics that ensure the needs of Black, indigenous and people of color are met as the county begins the reopening process. She also has advocated for modernizing the state’s public health system by realigning it to focus on equity, epidemiology, community partnerships, policy and operations, and through strengthened relationships with neighboring counties to create a regional infrastructure to improve communicable disease control.
Banks will be crucial in helping OHA achieve its goal of eliminating health inequities by 2030, while continuing work to expand other important initiatives, such as public health modernization, the State Health Improvement Plan, climate and health, immunizations, opioid prevention, and ensuring clean air and water.
“Rachael’s perspective and skills on these and other critical agency efforts, such as our strategic plan and the roll out of our performance management system, will be an essential component of my leadership team, particularly as the state continues the reopening process and prepares for eventual recovery from the COVID pandemic,” Allen said.
Banks earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Gonzaga University in 2001 and a master’s degree in public administration from Portland State University in 2012.