The Health Department’s 160-year history has been marked by employees’ abilities to identify emerging issues. In the county’s earliest years, sanitation and care for the indigent sick was a key concern. But as health officials tackled those issues, the Health Department turned its attention towards communicable diseases like tuberculosis.

By the modern era, new health concerns presented different kinds of challenges. Underlying sexually transmitted diseases prompted officials to establish long-lasting relationships with patients. And as the LGBTQ community grew, officials began providing specific services for them as well. By 2000, county staff had mastered outreach, accessibility and culturally-specific care. To help prevent sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, officials perform extensive outreach, from visiting nightclubs to running needle exchange programs.

In 2013, for the third straight year, Multnomah County was named a national Healthcare Equity Leader by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for its LGBT care.

Throughout, the county has been a provider of tangible services that people can see, touch and be a part of. Since its inception, the county has overcome the challenges of pioneering, the Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11. Even amidst financial uncertainty, there has never been a disruption of health services. And as health officials experience an ever-changing community, the Multnomah County Health Department will continue to adapt, provide, protect and promote the health of our community.

“For nearly 160 years, Multnomah County has worked to protect, promote and assure the health of our county residents,” Health Director Lillian Shirley says. “The new Health Department headquarters signals our commitment to continuing this great work. Wherever people live, work and play, the health department is there to prevent illness, provide access to care and protect health for all.” 

HIV outreach: LaVonne McFarland and Elnetta Woods were part of the HIV Outreach Team. May 1989