State Invoices Show Oregon’s Favorite Fixer Playing a Key Role in Mopping Up Measure 110

The state health agency couldn’t keep up with policymaker demands.

ON FENTANYL CORNER: A makeshift shelter near Southwest 6th Avenue. (Blake Benard)

In 2022, Oregon state officials faced a growing mess. Voters had decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs and, on the same ballot measure, directed state officials to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to new addiction treatment programs. Those Measure 110 treatment dollars couldn’t come at a better time, since fentanyl was rampaging on Portland’s streets.

The problem: That funding wasn’t getting out the door.

So the Oregon Health Authority, the agency in charge of the funds’ distribution, turned to its favorite fixer: Deloitte, the British consulting firm that had previously mopped up the Cover Oregon mess in 2014. (Another consultant, Oracle, was paid $240 million to build an insurance marketplace that didn’t work. Deloitte’s replacement was glitchy, but at least it functioned.) This time, Deloitte sent a team of dozens of young consultants who got to work triaging complaints from fed-up recipients of Measure 110 grants.

That contract, which WW previously reported on, was worth a total of $21.5 million, is under new scrutiny after first lady Aimee Kotek Wilson’s calendar revealed she’d been meeting regularly with Deloitte officials last year (“First Priority,” WW, May 1). Her office said Kotek Wilson was not involved in contract negotiations and was just using the high-priced consultants to organize a behavioral health “roundtable.”

The meetings were important not only because of what they show about Kotek Wilson’s involvement in state behavioral health policy, but also for what they hint about Deloitte’s pivotal role as Oregon’s fixer.

On May 2, in response to a public records request by WW, OHA released a year’s worth of invoices for the agency’s three biggest contracts with Deloitte.

What they show is that the state was paying enormous bills for Deloitte to consult on a wide range of programs. What they don’t show is what Deloitte actually delivered—and why the state needed highly paid consultants to get it.

What is clear from invoices released to WW is that a series of crises have caused OHA to lean hard on Deloitte, relying on outside contracts to do work that overwhelmed state employees apparently couldn’t. All told, between the three biggest contracts, Deloitte was paid $57 million last year alone.

“We are proud of the work we have done for the state of Oregon over the past 25 years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we supported the state’s efforts to maintain critical services and keep Oregonians safe,” Deloitte spokeswoman Karen Walsh says.

So what exactly was Deloitte doing? Here’s what we gleaned from reviewing the year’s worth of invoices:

The state paid Deloitte millions of dollars per month for COVID-related projects into 2023.

For the first three months of 2023, OHA was still paying Deloitte over $5 million per month on a pair of contracts to help the agency respond to the pandemic. “OHA staff lack the specialized technical experience and expertise,” the contracts explain, and ask consultants to pick up the slack. Together, the contracts list over a dozen broad tasks, from coordinating community events to staffing phone lines, but offer few details about why the state needed high-priced consultants to do them.

Consultants were paid hundreds of dollars per hour.

The invoices break down costs by broad topic area and role, which range from “analysts” being paid $245 per hour to top directors earning $395 per hour. The bulk of the work on the behavioral health contract, which was signed in June 2022, went to “business analysts” earning $280 per hour.

Angela Carter, the Measure 110 project manager, said the help was appreciated but came too late. Carter eventually resigned in frustration and recently told WW that the money would have been better spent on simply hiring more state employees instead of paying 25 out-of-state consultants calling into meetings from offices in California, New York and the Midwest.

An OHA spokesman blamed the need for consultants on the agency’s rapidly expanding responsibilities in the wake of the pandemic. “The modified level of support from Deloitte was due to the addition of work needed to support the governor’s behavioral health priorities, including state responses to the overdose crisis. OHA had limited staff capacity to fully implement those changes,” Timothy Heider said.

The contracts’ scope is expanding.

Initial invoices for the behavioral health contract showed the money being spent primarily on Measure 110-related tasks. Heider said specific tasks included creating “funding templates” for grantees and crunching data.

Since then, invoices show consultants have taken on new projects, including “workforce,” “social determinants of health,” and the state’s troubled “aid and assist” system, which relies on the overburdened Oregon State Hospital to treat all the state’s criminal defendants too mentally ill to stand trial.

And there’s more to do on the horizon. That contract has been “consolidated” into the agency’s “emergency services” contract with Deloitte to do work related to COVID, which hints at the breadth of the agency’s needs. “OHA must also address other major challenges caused by other system disruptions and hazards, including wildfires, heat, and the hospital capacity crisis,” it reads.

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