Candidates for the position of public health officer interviewed, selection next week

On Friday, Cascade County Commissioners and Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly, a member of the Board of Health, interviewed three candidates for the position of public health officer with the city and county health department.

Candidates include Abigail Hill, a public health nurse with CCHD; Kendal Nagel, nurse at Great Falls Public Schools District, and Isabella Boroje, epidemiologist at live work with the Center for Epidemiology and Environmental Health in Washington, DC

At a health board meeting earlier this month, the chairman, Dr Matt Martin, said there were eight candidates for the position. County Commissioner Joe Briggs said the top three candidates will move on to interviews.

Hill was interviewed first and talked about studying medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University and what she learned there.

“Health is more than our body. It’s our education, our income, and there are so many variables that influence health,” she said.

She is currently working as a Public Health Nurse with CCHD in the Family Health Services Division. She said Trisha Gardner, the former CCHD health worker, asked her if she would be interested in applying for the job. Hill said after thinking about it, she decided to apply.

Hill said she didn’t have extensive management experience at this scale, but spoke of wanting to promote a work environment with open communication among staff. She said the pandemic was forcing many people in the department to move into positions that weren’t originally in their job description and wanted to realign staff to their strengths.

At the end of the interview, Hill asked if the governing body that will eventually oversee the Board of Health would impact her work if selected. Briggs responded that most of his interface would be with the county commission, which oversees CCHD.

A governing body is needed to oversee the Board of Health after adoption of HB 121 in the 2021 legislative session. The city and county have until June to determine the composition of the final body, under the terms of their interim agreement.

Nagel, who works as nurse at Riverview Elementarysaid she wanted to revive a department she felt felt “empty”.

Nagel said she was given a tour of CCHD by acting health worker Bowen Trystianson after expressing interest in the position.

“It felt like the employees were exhausted,” Nagel said, sympathetic to the work of contact tracing during COVID-19. “I think there may have been a mass exodus because of that, which is understandable.”

Briggs responded to that later in the interview, saying he saw this time as an opportunity to rebuild, if appropriate.

“What I see as a very critical function of a public health administrator is to look at the current environment and see how we should restructure. Do we have the right programs, do we have the right training for our staff and that sort of thing,” Briggs said.

Commissioner Don Ryan added that he knew COVID was putting a strain on staff, but one of the lessons to be learned from this had to be for the department to “prepare for the pandemic” and ensure that it there is a long term plan.

Ryan added that he wanted to make sure there was consistency with CCHD services and with Alluvion Health, which canceled services, but commissioners said they would return.

Nagel asked if there were any red flags or things that needed improvement at CCHD.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a red flag, but the reality is post-COVID I don’t think everything is as good as it was before,” Briggs said. “The other reality is that during COVID there has been a huge flow of additional funding, through existing grant programs and new ones that have been put in place, that funding is about to disappear.”

Briggs said a big challenge will be determining core services and funding grants, as grants make up more than 50% of CCHD’s funding.

Nagel said in closing that she will bring a fresh perspective to the department as she comes from outside. Prior to working with the school district, she worked as a critical care nurse at Benefis Health System. During her interview, she spoke about the aftermath of the Calumet refinery explosion in 2019 and how police and fire responders came together to help train for injuries involving hazardous materials .

Boroje had the last interview of the day and joined via Zoom, saying she was currently in Virginia.

When asked what motivated her to apply for the job, Boroje said she started looking for jobs in Montana after vacationing in the state where she enjoyed the beautiful scenery and visited Great Falls, among other destinations.

Boroje talked about working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a lead poisoning protection program and talked about the budget management involved in that.

“We had an extra, we didn’t spend it all, so we had to find ways to spend the rest of that budget,” she said. “Otherwise, CDC would not allow us to have the same amount of money for next year. So we hired contractors to help us on parent messaging to test their children. We sent staff to education, and that’s how we solved the problem.

She said her priorities would be to solve the problems describe in the community health improvement plan, involving access to care, substance abuse and child neglect/abuse.

Boroje said she will be in Europe next week to visit her mother. She said in the interview that she was an immigrant, adding that “my thoughts, writings and documents are flawless.”

Briggs said members of the Board of Health have watched live or will view videos of the interviews and will move forward next week.

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