The Central Oregon health care community has a history of taking a comprehensive approach to solve problems.

In 2007, Governor Kitzhaber traveled throughout Oregon discussing health care transformation. Central Oregon was selected as a test site for Medicaid payment reform. In 2009 the community decided to tackle one if its most costly issues in health care: the emergency department. Through teamwork and a shared goal, local providers who might normally consider one another competitors began to recognize the collective strength they could have if they partnered.

In 2009, the earliest version of the Central Oregon Health Council was formed under the name Health Integration Project Transitional Board. The intention of the group was to create the first regional health alliance that would allow Crook, Jefferson, and Deschutes Counties to partner on health care transformation.

The board renamed itself Links for Health shortly after to honor James Link, a patient who suffered from multiple comorbidities and was not empowered to thrive in the existing health care system; as a result, he passed away early in life. The group later submitted an intergovernmental agreement from the three Central Oregon counties, and this was made official by the state under the name Transitional Board.

In 2011, Deschutes County Public Health Director Scott Johnson and Dr. Robin Henderson of St. Charles designed the model for the Central Oregon Health Council and submitted Senate Bill 204 to the legislature. The plan at that time included the creation of the Regional Health Assessment and Regional Health Improvement Plan, to be carried out on a four-year cycle, as well as oversight of a global budget for Medicaid care spending and a neutral party to create partnerships and foster trust among health care providers.

With legislation in place, the Transitional Board became the governing entity of the region’s Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) in 2012 and was renamed the Central Oregon Health Council.

Members of the Board of Directors who represent organizations are legislatively required to be head decision-makers (executive directors, CEOs, etc.). Additionally, the founding members believed community members and clinics alike would be impacted by changes to the health system, and as a reflection of that belief, community representatives have served on the Board of Directors from the beginning.

Each organization involved sees the bigger picture beyond their individual efforts. Central Oregon also looks for opportunities to experiment and create transformation and has developed unique structures and legislation to allow these ideas to take root.

Today, the Central Oregon Health Council continues to breed unlikely but beneficial partnerships, invest in community-driven projects, and foster trust and transparency in an otherwise competitive industry. All these efforts are intended to create a healthier Central Oregon, not only for individuals insured through Medicaid but for all residents.

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