New man in charge of Cover Oregon makes no guarantees, wants to restore public trust

New man in charge of Cover Oregon makes no guarantees, wants to restore public trust »Play Video
Clyde Hamstreet

PORTLAND, Ore. - After three days on the job, the new man running Cover Oregon is getting a grasp on what may end up giving him a run for his money. 

Clyde Hamstreet said he won't guarantee he can fix all that's gone wrong with the website for the state's health insurance exchange. He knows all he can do is try.

“Philosophically, we want to be open," he said. "We want to be candid. We want to tell it as it is.  We don’t have an agenda. We don’t have anything but get in there and figure it out, and that’s what the board wants. I think that’s what the state wants."

He’s not looking at the past - a year of bad decisions, mismanagement, and broken promises, all documented in an independent review ordered by Governor Kitzhaber earlier this year.  KATU News has extensively reported on the debacle.

“It’s not my job to go back and see who did what to whom," Hamstreet said. "I think there’s fiefdoms that come up in state agencies, they think about the agency first rather than the state as a whole. I would hope that we won’t be part of that. We won’t be part of that if I’m here."

Instead he’s looking ahead, yet wary of making any promises about what he can accomplish in the short time-frame he’s been given to turn Cover Oregon around.  

“You meet with the people. You meet with the people here, you meet with the people that represent the citizens, or the people who speak for them, like (the media), and you start off by saying we don’t know very much about this. We need to learn very quickly,” Hamstreet said.

Cover Oregon’s board of directors wants managers, including Hamstreet and Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit, to recommend by April 30, 2014 whether they stay the course and hire a new software firm to complete the website, or switch to the federal health care exchange. 

That’s 15 days away.

“We’re going to try hard to make it. Maybe it will be 16 days or 17 days but it has to be made pretty quickly because we have the Nov. 15 date for enrollment,” Hamstreet said.

The goal is to have a website ready for the public to use by the time open enrollment begins for 2015.
Along with that major IT decision, Hamstreet is learning about Cover Oregon’s budget.  He said this is the first company he’s been hired to turn around that operates with government tax money.

Hamstreet said his priority is getting a handle on the budget.

“We’ve got a decision coming up pretty soon on IT," he said. "The IT decision is not made in isolation. It has to be made as a business decision."

Hamstreet also believes Cover Oregon suffers from a "confidence problem," a result of the failed website and what that brought with it. He believes restoring public trust will help employees regain their confidence.

“If the people here and the people that support this agency care, and they want to make it, there’s a good glimmer of hope,” Hamstreet said.

Cover Oregon’s board of directors hired Hamstreet last week. The contract stipulates Hamstreet will not be paid more than $100,000, it involves a $40,000 retainer, and a team of consultants from Hamstreet’s company will help.

Hamstreet said Governor Kitzhaber called him in late March, around the same time then-executive director Dr. Bruce Goldberg resigned.

“We don’t have a personal relationship," Hamstreet said. "I have some admiration for him, but when your governor asks you to help out, you try to do the best you can."

Hamstreet has worked for two decades turning troubled companies around.
One of his success stories: He took over Sunwest assisted-living a few years ago after its CEO was indicted and the company filed for bankruptcy.

As for Cover Oregon, Hamstreet said while its IT decision is looming, there's a chance the current enrollment system---on paper--could stay in place for a while.

“There are some times you don’t sleep," he said. "Yes. But, if you let it get in the way that much you’re not effective. You have to be objective about this work ... no one wants to fail. No one wants this thing to fail. I don’t want it to fail. I’ll do everything we can so that it doesn’t fail, but I don’t know enough to say that it won’t.

"The most important thing is to restore the trust of the people here.  And we need to try to get the trust of the people of Oregon. And the best way to do that is to be open, candid, tell the truth, even if it’s bad news."