The CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems navigates state Medicaid crises, regulatory uncertainty and industry realignment.
Before he turned 30, Andy Davidson had lived in a VW van in a Seattle parking lot, managed a Maryland Democratic congressman’s re-election campaign and purchased the Ben & Jerry’s franchise he’d seen advertised at a Grateful Dead concert.
Still, as the 1994 holiday season approached, Davidson was broke. So he took a job waiting banquet tables in Seattle. It didn’t go well.
“One night I was carrying a big tray of coffee service for a table of 12, and a woman backed up her chair as I was coming by. The whole tray just jettisoned and landed on the table,” recalls Davidson, now 52 and president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS).
“It made all this clang and noise, and everybody was looking. Five or six tables stood up and cheered. I held myself together and got that cleaned up. When I walked out that night, I said, ‘I never want to have to do this again.’”
“The bumper sticker in my world right now for my members is uncertainty — period. — Andy Davidson
For Davidson, that personal indignity opened doors into the intertwined worlds of health care and public policy that were always there for him to enter. He called the head of the Washington State Hospital Association, a friend of his father’s, who was then president of the American Hospital Association, for networking advice.
The next day, the Washington association’s Leo Greenawalt offered Davidson a six-month job developing a defensive strategy against possible cuts in Medicare funding threatened by House Republicans under the leadership of conservative firebrand Newt Gingrich.
“Six months later, I was running all the policy and advocacy shop, and I was having a blast,” Davidson says during a wide-ranging interview in his office in Lake Oswego’s Kruse Way.
Davidson’s long, strange trip took him to perhaps the top leadership position in Oregon’s health care industry in October 2005. Since then he’s battled for hospitals as they were transformed by the birth of the Affordable Care Act and Oregon’s vast Medicaid expansion.
Almost 500,000 Oregonians obtained health insurance through Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act in recent years, with new money initially boosting profits for hospitals while setting the stage for ominous longer-term challenges.
Now Davidson is in the eye of unrelenting storms over the future of the Affordable Care Act, the political and financial crises of the Oregon Health Authority and the state Medicaid program, restive hospital employees, and the disorienting reinvention of the health care industry through new business alliances.
Some industry realignments are momentous: News emerged in December that the Providence health care system is discussing a merger with Ascension, the nation’s second-largest system, to create what would be the nation’s largest hospital system.
He’s not having a blast these days, but then neither are his members. “The bumper sticker in my world right now for my members is uncertainty — period,’” says the man on top, who sometimes looks at a painting of a forest scene above his office’s two computer screens for emotional relief.