As we all prepare for the impact of the state budget shortfall, I want to take a moment to talk about how our two agencies, the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority, move forward.
One year ago — on June 26, 2009 — House Bill 2009 was signed by the Governor and became law. With that legislation, the Oregon Department of Human Services was fundamentally changed. And one year from now, in July of 2011, we will operate as two separate but connected agencies. We will have separate budgets and different missions, but as we will share many clients and customers, our work will be closely aligned.
And as we build the two agencies, we must continue to be innovative and bold. To be successful, modern health and human services agencies have to meet several challenges.
I also want to address a question I have received, which is, "Given the budget shortfall, how can we afford to separate into two agencies?" As we look at the challenges before us in our state, the simple answer is that we can't afford not to.
First, if we don't address it now, the ever-rising cost of health care will continue to eat up dollars that could be invested more strategically or that could meet other societal needs. Put simply, health care costs are rising at twice the rate of our state revenues and outstripping the ability of states, individuals, and business to keep up.
Second, our state resources are limited at the same time there is increasing demand for human services. Our current economic crisis is now being labeled the "Great Recession," and its impact on our state has been profound. Unless we find ways to both stretch revenues and leverage other resources, we will continue to face the kinds of service reductions we face today.
I believe what we have done at DHS over the past few years to both improve services and prioritize workload has been transformational. It also will provide the foundation for both agencies' work. Today, that means we are creating these new agencies with no additional resources from the state Legislature, within our budget, and in a way that saves money wherever possible. Tomorrow these same philosophies will help us in additional ways.
We must continue to innovate and advance our work. At the same time, Oregon must face the reality that, although we will continue to increase our effectiveness, current finite resources will require prioritizing of services. And truly meeting the health and human services needs of Oregonians will require additional investments.
DHS will continue to find new and better ways to help families, seniors, and our most vulnerable live safely and with dignity. Our employees will be able to be more locally focused and work more closely with community partners. OHA will tackle the issue of health care costs, encourage health and wellness, and help build the health care workforce of the future.
As the budget shortfall forces us to reduce the services we believe in, I know that it can be difficult to raise our eyes to the future. These reductions feel like a setback — I feel that too. But the reality is we have no choice. We must keep moving forward and doing everything we can. We cannot control these budget reductions but we can control our response. We cannot lose hope or our vision for the future.