The Board of Commissioner Tuesday honored Integrated Clinical Services Director Vanetta Abdellatif, who has accepted a new position as president and CEO of Seattle-based Arcora Foundation, which invests in dental services and dental education for underserved communities across Washington state.
Tuesday, Jan. 21 is her last day.
Chair Deborah Kafoury thanked Abdellatif for her 18 years of service, calling her an advocate for clients, a strong leader and a role model to talented employees in an industry that often promotes white men over qualified women and people of color.
“You have always been an advocate of the clients you serve, but also for the staff you represent,” Kafoury said. “You can look at the team you have put together. Other women and women of color have had a chance to rise up through the organization.”
Board members added words of thanks and good wishes, and praised Abdellatif’s support of incoming commissioners, educating them on the issues facing clinics and clients alike.
“You have always been diligent and proactive and I always felt informed about what was going on,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.
“My gratitude to you as well,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “I’ve seen your dedication to the work and to equity and to making sure we're delivering service with clarity, focus and passion.”
“I’m touched. I do have an incredible team,” Abdellatif said. “This has been one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I've had. I'm proud of the leaders I'm working with today, and it's been a great run.”
But it wasn’t always an easy road.
Abdellatif arrived at Multnomah County days after Sept. 11, when the country was in shock and mourning. Within 15 minutes she was asked to make major budget cuts. Since then she’s navigated budget cuts and helped steer the Health Department through allegations of racial discrimination and deep division.
She was an advocate and a champion for community health, said Primary Services Director Tasha Wheatt-Delancy, who has stepped in as interim director. She spoke Tuesday of Abdellatif’s role shaping health and access to health services in Multnomah County.
As federal medicaid eligibility expanded, Abdellatif served on the state’s advisory committee to help shape the Oregon Health Plan. During state budget cuts in the 2000s, she advocated to preserve dental services for her patients. She shifted the county’s clinical system to electronic health records years before other health centers.
“As leaders, one of our priorities is to leave the organization a better place than we found it,” Wheatt-Delancy said. “The community, the patients and the organization are better because of her accomplishments. All of these accomplishments are part of Vanetta’s legacy.”
As a show of thanks, Wheatt-Delancy produced a pair of shiny gold stilettos in a clear plastic box and presented them to Abdellatif.
“As you take the next steps and carve out new footprints, I'll leave you with the words my mother leaves me with every time we talk,” she said. “Travel in grace. Arrive in mercy.”