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Where others see chaos, he tackles opportunity to reshape mental health care

Steve Allen is director of the state agency charged with caring for Oregonians with mental health and substance abuse. (Sam Stites/Oregon Capital Bureau)

Finding a director to run a key new division of the Oregon Health Authority vexed Pat Allen for months.

The agency director worked with hundreds of internal and external stakeholders to search for someone who would bring experience and familiarity with Oregon’s forlorn behavioral health system. Allen needed someone to overhaul critical state services provided to the one in six Oregonians dealing with mental illness or substance abuse.

“Over those months I became convinced that every state’s behavioral health system is screwed up, but they’re each screwed up in their own way,” Allen said. “I really thought that local expertise was critical. We took several runs at trying to find the right . . .