Written by Eric Killelea
Officials in Roosevelt County entered into a contract Tuesday, Sept. 15, with a Helena-based independent consultant to combat low rankings of public health.
The board of health agreed to hire Loveland Consulting, LLC, to complete a community health assessment by February 2017, said Vickie Bell, director of the county health department. The contract also requires board members to review their bylaws by May 2016 and complete various training programs by June 2016.
“It’s a huge process,” Bell said.
Patty Presser and Karla Thompson, registered nurses at the county health department, told the consultant of community struggles with high unemployment rates, alcohol and drug use and the lack of services for maternal care.
Dr. Mark Zilkoski expressed concerns of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and sexually transmitted diseases among his patients, along with methamphetamine use.
“Our biggest problems are the drug use and polysubstance abuse. We know this. The tribes know this,” Bell said. “How do we make a change in the right direction to give their babies a better life as well as themselves?”
Board members estimated receiving $10,000 in grants from a foundation funded by the sale of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Montana to Health Care Service Corp., of Chicago. The Montana Healthcare Foundation is expected to collect more than $100 million over the next several years in assets to fund millions of dollars each year in healthcare programs throughout the state.
“You have so many needs up there,” said Katie Loveland, owner of Loveland Consulting, who plans to work also with the Fort Peck Tribal Health Department in collecting public health data and organizing an assessment. Completing a public health assessment would allow county and tribal officials to prove accurate, up-to-date data needed to acquire state funds for localized programs. “… Sometimes when I think about Fort Peck, I don’t have the numbers to quantify the problems.”
Earlier in the year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute ranked the health of counties detailing the length and quality of life throughout the state. Roosevelt County ranked last out of 46 counties, with 10 counties removed from the report due to missing data. Gallatin County ranked first and Yellowstone County ranked 26th.
The Montana Healthcare Foundation considers a variety of public health program, including health system planning, partnerships with the outside health sector, and improving maternal-child health outcomes according to its website.
The board of health plans to afford Loveland Consulting by using portions of the grant money over 12 to 24 months.