27 February, 2021

Honoring Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis

[music begins] So, Dr.

Lewis is, he’s a scientist, he’s an educator, he’s a physician, he is very much a health officer in terms of bringing all of those parts of his career and himself to the leadership role and to stepping into that role around whatever the public health issue is of the day.

In medicine I've had three different careers.

I started as a research scientist, first working on herpes virus, then on HIV.

Then I was pretty much full-time doctor up at OHSU.

I started the pediatric HIV clinic and ran the hospital— children’s hospital infectious disease program.

And then, you know, before I had an opportunity to move to public service, I joined the state public health division so that I could learn about public health.

That was mostly about outbreaks and food-born illness.

But when I came to the county is really when I think I finally found my home, because this is where I learned about equity, and social justice, and social determinants of health, and I’ve really loved every minute of my career here, trying to work as far upstream as possible to help people before they get sick rather than waiting for them [BEEPER GOES OFF] to be near death.

(off-camera voice): Is that like you’re being called for work right now? Well, like I say, I’ve got a couple of jobs and— [off-camera laughter] This is my week.

(off-camera voice): This is going to make the video.

This is my- This is my hospital week.

There has not been a public health crisis in this community since about 2011 that Paul Lewis has not put on his bike helmet, climbed onto his bike, turned on his lights, and led us through the dark forest.

The E.

coli outbreak at Chipotle.

Suspected cases of Ebola.

Paul got the fire departments, the ambulance and hospitals ready for a suspected case.

And then when we actually got one, personally drove groceries to the family involved so they could stay home and stay safe.

The heavy metals around Portland glass manufacturers.

Lead in Portland Public Schools.

And he led the testing of more than 500 kids in a single week to assure parents that their kids were safe, because we didn’t know.

The Cully auto salvage yard fire.

And, with no money, staff or mandate, Paul led the effort to count people who died while experiencing homelessness in the annual Domicile Unknown report.


We are living in a crisis where people I know are dying weekly and I am confident that without Paul’s leadership things would be so much worse.

I’m not saying that things aren’t bad right now, right.

But, you know, Paul championed the good Samaritan law— has made it so people do call 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose.

Our access to naloxone— giving naloxone out, coming out of jails.

Like these are things that really we know are life-saving interventions for folks and I don’t believe that many of those things would have happened without Paul.

Taking him down to Salem was gold for Multnomah County because he was so trustworthy, his word was his bond.

I didn’t have to check to make sure that he was correct.

He was always reading, always staying up on issues, always talking to folks, always looking at what could we do to improve public health.

Paul is an educator.

And he, in our old Gladys McCoy Building there are often whiteboards in rooms but often the markers were missing.

And, so I brought a prop because he would actually carry a dry erase marker with him.

You always got to have a dry erase marker.

In fact I think I- We could look, [off-camera laughter] see if I’m true to my word.

I have not only a Sharpie, but also a dry erase marker.

So, if there’s a white board, I’m on it.

Paul once commented to me that being at an Executive level at the Health Department it's not just a job.

He said, it's like giving your life to the county.

And, I would say he has done that.

And he has done that in spades as health officer and as someone, again, with the skill set and this range of abilities I feel like he has really served us all well.

[music fades out].

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