New Deschutes County health director chosen

Jane Smilie has worked in Montana’s health department for 25 years.

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin / @EGlucklich

Published Apr 17, 2014 at 12:01AM

Deschutes County announced Wednesday it has hired a new director for its Health Services Department, after three months of searching through a pool of nearly 50 candidates from across the country.

Jane Smilie is set to become Deschutes County Health Services director May 7. She’s worked in the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services for 25 years and served as administrator of its public health division for nine years.

Smilie, 56, will replace Scott Johnson, who’s retiring after 20 years working with the county, five of them as Health Services director.

County administrators say it’s a major hire. Health Services is one of Deschutes County’s biggest departments, with an annual budget in excess of $32 million and 200 employees. The director oversees the entire department.

“She’s got a pretty high-level job with the state of Montana,” Deschutes County Administrator Tom Anderson said. “We’re excited as can be that she accepted.”

The Health Services Department is also changing rapidly, spurred by national health care reform efforts. A major piece of the Affordable Care Act gave states the option to expand Medicaid eligibility, for residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Oregon has followed through with the expansion, which is bringing a flood of new Medicaid patients to Deschutes County Health Services for preventive care. The county has had to play catch-up to some extent, adding several new staff positions this year to meet the demand.

Montana hasn’t followed through with the expansion, but Smilie said she’s kept close tabs on its impact in other states.

“The whole Medicaid expansion piece has created a different dynamic, or a different opportunity, to where (health officials) can have a real impact bringing up the entire health status of a population,” she said Tuesday.

Smilie received her undergraduate degree from Southern Illinois University, and earned a master’s in public health from the University of Washington in 2000.

She oversees a $70 million annual budget in the Montana Public Health Department and manages 200 employees.

The move to Deschutes County is partially about living in Bend, where Smilie says she has friends and cousins.

“I’ve always heard about how great Bend is, and I’m just at a point in my life where I feel like I can make a career change,” she said.

But she also said she’s impressed by the county’s efforts to integrate public and behavioral health issues. Public health refers to basic issues such as illnesses, immunizations, prenatal and child care, while behavioral health covers mental disorders and addiction issues.

The county combined its public and mental health departments in 2009, forming the Health Services Department.

She’s also impressed by the county’s continuing effort give its Health Services workers new training and skills.

“They’re on the cutting edge of health care reform,” Smilie said. “I think it’s a very forward-looking organization.”

Anderson said the county contacted local officials in Montana about Smilie’s work, and heard no complaints.

Johnson will stay on after May 7 and likely until June, to help with the transition, Anderson said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com