An independent review of how the state handled a dental health survey in the midst of a heated fluoridation debate in Portland has found no wrongdoing on the part of state employees.
The Oregon Health Authority has staunchly maintained — and now the state’s Human Resources Department has confirmed — that there was nothing inappropriate about the fact that state officials managing a survey of kids’ oral health met with the architects of Portland’s pro-fluoride campaign in January.
Despite emails indicating a staffer had gone over the parts of the report (though no specific data) with Upstream Public Health well in advance of releasing it publicly, the review found that “it is not uncommon for state government officials to meet with special interest groups.”
What’s more, the report’s author notes that “Upstream Public Health was the only special interest group that had requested to meet with (OHA) regarding the survey.” The Oregonian, however, had issued repeated requests for data included in the report.
The issue began after the report was also continually delayed, despite initial expectations that it would be released in February. The Oregonian requested emails regarding the delay and found that while there didn’t appear to be any effort to delay the report, Shanie Mason, the state’s oral health program manager, and Mel Kohn, the state health officer who recently announced he was resigning, met with the co-directors of Upstream Public Health.
Though there’s never any indication that the state changed the report for Upstream, Mason did, at one point, note that she was “getting a ton of pressure from advocates like Upstream Public Health that have very specific ideas about how we should present our information … Unfortunately for them I’m committed to maintaining the integrity of our work and we’ll be presenting our data in the way that we see most appropriate.”
After Portlanders ultimately rejected fluoridation, Bruce Goldberg, the authority’s director, asked that the human resources department look into the matter.
The report addressed two other concerns as well.
The second was whether the report’s authors had intentionally delayed the results so as to shape the conversation around the Portland fluoride debate.
On that matter, the investigators again found no wrongdoing. “We conclude there were not any willful delays in the distribution of the report or influencing of the data.”
The third, a more tangential matter, had to do with a state employee who had, using her state email account, communicated about delivering pro-fluoride signs to other fluoride supporters.
However, investigators found it happened only once and the employee reported that after the initial email she followed up with the fluoride supporter to note that she could not use work resources to communicate about outside political activity.
“The employee, without any counseling from her supervisor or the Agency, took the appropriate steps to redirect any future communication regarding this issue,” the report reads. “The employee did not deliver any signs at work.”