The head of Multnomah County’s federally funded health clinics was placed on administrative leave last month, he says in a letter sent today to county commissioners. That director, Darnell “DJ” Rhodes, had been on the job since being appointed in April.
He was touted at the time as a “proven leader and strategic thinker” who’d been recruited to Portland from a similar job in Missouri.
Today, Rhodes sent a scathing letter to commissioners accusing the county of “repeated discriminatory practices” against Black employees, including himself.
Rhodes was himself accused last month of harassment, he says, and was asked to resign. He declined to quit after the county refused to provide him with additional details about the accusations he faced, he says.
“It was like I was working with sharks. I never felt comfortable,” he told WW in a phone interview Friday.
In response to WW’s questions, a county spokeswoman sent the following statement: “Multnomah County does not comment on personnel matters. We can confirm that D.J. Rhodes has been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 16, 2023.”
In his letter, Rhodes says county officials discriminated against him and retaliated against his efforts to hold staff accountable. “While most of the employees are hardworking, supportive, and onboard with my vision for Multnomah County Health, it wasn’t long until I realized that there were a few employees who resented my appointment and were actively working against me,” his letter reads.
His relationship with his staff went sour, he told WW, after he’d probed some of his office’s practices, which included spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on underused services.
Rhodes ran the county health department’s largest division, Integrated Clinical Services, which employs more than 600 workers and serves 56,000 patients a year at dozens of clinics. Its services, aimed at low-income and underserved populations, are funded by the federal government. A volunteer body made up of mostly patients governs ICS and appoints it director.
This development is only the latest evidence of turmoil in the top ranks of the county’s health department. Its public health director announced she was resigning earlier this week. Last month, WW outlined how health department staffing shortages led to dangerous conditions inside two county jails.