The Montana Public Health Institute (MTPHI) is a new organization working to strengthen the state’s public health system through collaboration, leadership, and the advancement of health equity.
Spurred by the pandemic’s demand on local health departments, we supported the launch of MTPHI – the state’s first public health institute – in 2020 after an intensive two-year planning process. Nationally, independent, nonprofit public health institutes work closely with public health agencies and private sector stakeholders to provide a range of capacity-building services, including technical assistance, evaluation, policy analysis, and programming.
2021 was MTPHI’s first full year of operation. It hired its first CEO, Matt Kelley, and two additional full-time staff. With a team that has extensive experience in leading public health departments and deep relationships in the community, MTPHI quickly developed its capacity and began providing support to local and state public health departments.
Over the past year, MTPHI played a significant role in the state’s pandemic recovery efforts by analyzing the needs of local health departments and addressing critical technical assistance needs. It also looked beyond COVID-19 to other community needs where public health could play a role.
Some of the specific ways MTPHI is working to support and strengthen the public health system include:
Mental health and substance use disorders quickly emerged as a significant focus for MTPHI, driven by community health assessments that found these to be top priorities in all areas of the state. MTPHI is working to enable county and tribal public health departments to lead in building community resilience and responding to mental illness and substance misuse.
During the pandemic, MTPHI helped local health departments deploy federal emergency funds to address mental health crises in their communities. With our support, MTPHI is doing an environmental scan of behavioral health interventions.
Environmental scans identify the interventions that would work best in the community. The scan focuses on working upstream from behavioral health crisis and treatment, shifting resources and emphasis toward building resilient communities and preventing people from needing emergency services.
Public Health Leaders
The pandemic resulted in considerable local public health staff turnover. As a result, many counties and tribes now have health officials who are new to public health and need education and support as they grow into their positions.
MTPHI staff have extensive experience running local public health departments. They are applying their skills statewide to help new leaders learn the skills needed to run an effective public health program. MTPHI also works to support more experienced public health officials, many of whom have weathered the difficult days of the pandemic, with communities of practice, technical assistance, and direct consultation as they work to rebuild and transform our public health system.
Public Health Communications
During the pandemic, local health officials faced a sometimes-overwhelming demand for timely, accurate information on a rapidly evolving crisis. After completing over 30 reviews of local public health departments’ COVID-19 response, MTPHI saw a clear need for communications training and capacity. So, it began providing resources to help local public health departments clearly and effectively communicate about the things their communities need to know.
To help meet this challenge, MTPHI is hosting temporary staff detailed by the CDC Foundation to work with local health departments to design communications strategies and build staff skills. The staff person also worked with the University of Montana to create communications coursework for the School of Public and Community Health Sciences so that future public health leaders can get the training they need.
MTPHI serves as the connective tissue of our public health system. It connects resources and expertise at the local level with local and tribal health departments and at the state level with universities and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. It is doing the work to help local and state agencies collaborate and work together for a common goal so that the state’s entire public health system is stronger.