Rogue of the Week: Sen. Chip Shields

A lawmaker mixes health care for Oregonians and protecting his own wallet.

Oregon legislators convene Feb. 1 in Salem for a one-month session. They'll deal with education reform, the budget and fundamentally changing the way the state pays for health care.

On that last issue, Sen. Chip Shields (D-Portland) has been less than transparent about the conflict of interest between his public duty and private financial interest.

In his day job, Shields, 44, serves as the business manager for Hands On Medicine, a North Portland clinic owned by his wife, Shelda Holmes. The clinic treats Medicaid patients, whose bills are paid by the state.

Shields—a lawmaker since 2005—has been a strong advocate for his constituents, many of them low-income residents of North and Northeast Portland. He's also a member of the Senate Health Care Committee, which makes him a player in Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed reforms.

Kitzhaber wants to cut Medicaid-—by $239 million now, and more later. To absorb those cuts, hospitals, doctor groups and clinics are forming "coordinated care organizations," or CCOs, to provide Medicaid services more efficiently.

Shields has been demanding details about these plans- and mixing his public and private roles when doing so.

According to documents WW obtained through public records requests, Shields sent emails to organizers of the proposed CCO from a personal email account and identified himself as the "business manager" of Hands On Medicine.

But in a Jan. 17 email from his address (Shields used to serve in the House), he wrote, "[H]ere's the information I need in order to do my job of representing the 120,000 people in N/NE part of Multnomah County, and the Medicaid recipients current and future in my district."

His questions, though, focused more on the implications of the proposed CCO for his wife's clinic than for his constituents. He asked for "a statement of who is representing private-practice primary care providers, and who is representing other practitioners who are not part of a hospital system."

He also asked to be included in all future CCO planning meetings, which are not open to the public.

Shields says he was trying to shed light on a billion-dollar, publicly funded enterprise.

But he acknowledges he needs to separate his dual roles with a bright line—and hasn't done so.

“It’s a fair point,” he says. “I should send anything related to my legislative work from my legislative email address.”  

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