Announcing Montana’s First Public Health Institute

A group of dedicated health professionals have collaborated to create Montana’s first public health institute. In 35 states, independent, non-profit public health institutes work closely with public health agencies and private sector stakeholders to provide a range of technical assistance, evaluation, policy analysis, and programming. The new Montana Public Health Institute will strengthen the health system through collaboration, leadership, and the advancement of health equity. It will also play a crucial role in the state’s COVID-19 response and recovery. Partners from organizations including the Montana Healthcare Foundation, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, county and tribal public health departments, Montana’s public health associations, and the Montana University System are collaborating on this effort.

The decision to form the Montana Public Health Institute came from a feasibility study and design process that involved partners from multiple sectors over nearly two years. “Creating a Vision for a Healthier Montana: Strengthening the Montana Public Health System” identified public health institute services not currently provided by other organizations in Montana, and offered recommendations for improvement. Based on extensive research and analysis, the study concluded that a public health institute could fill a critical need in building partnerships to address health-related needs in Montana and strengthen Montana’s largely rural public health system. You can find more information on the feasibility study (including its methodology and recommendations) here.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an immediate need for services that public health institutes in other states are providing, and the Montana Public Health Institute’s Design Team decided to accelerate the organization’s development in response. Once established, the Institute will aid in the COVID-19 response, guide and support recovery, help secure and administer funding, and analyze lessons from this crisis to build an even more effective public health system.

Beyond COVID-19 response efforts, the Montana Public Health Institute will focus on:

  1. Strengthening the public health system’s capacity by providing supportive services. Services will include leveraging funding to support community health and system improvements, assisting communities with grant-writing and grants management, providing administrative and operational support, and providing support for multi-sector collaborations. Rural, frontier and tribal communities will be a focus of this work.
  2. Producing independent, data-driven research and analysis. The Institute’s goal is to become a trusted source of information about public health issues, programs, policies, funding, and the public health and health care system.

The Montana Public Health Institute was incorporated as a Montana non-profit in late April 2020. Members of the board of directors include:

  • Matt Kelley, President, Gallatin City-County Health Department Health Officer
  • Sue Hansen, Vice President, Beaverhead County Health Department Director
  • Tony Ward, Treasurer, University of Montana School of Public and Community Health Sciences Professor and Chair
  • Morgan Taylor, Secretary, DPHHS Director’s Office Policy and Communications Officer
  • Aaron Wernham, Montana Healthcare Foundation CEO
  • Dyani Bingham, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council Epidemiology Center Project Manager
  • Patty Presser, Roosevelt County Health Department Director
  • Paul Cook, Montana Healthcare Foundation Board of Trustees
  • Rosemary Cree Medicine, Blackfeet Nation Tribal Health Department Director
  • Zoe Barnard, DPHHS Addictive and Mental Disorders Division Administrator

The Montana Healthcare Foundation funded the feasibility study, the Design Team’s work, and will continue supporting the Montana Public Health Institute’s development with a $1.85 million grant over five years. The consultants for this project were the Montana-based Population Health Partners (Jane Smilie, Principal) and the National Network of Public Health Institutes (Vincent LaFronza, President and CEO, and Erin Marziale, Director of Network Engagement).