In 2020, Montana launched a new nonprofit called the Montana Public Health Institute. MTPHI aims to strengthen Montana's public health system capacity, focusing on its rural, frontier and tribal communities and supporting sound health policy and funding. According to Chief Operating Officer Hilary Hanson, this is an idea that Montana had been contemplating for a long time.

“There was a big feasibility study to determine if there were additional public health needs,” Hanson said. “The answer was yes. The institute was originally meant to be formed in 2021 or 2022. When COVID started, there was recognition that there is help that is needed right now and support that is needed for those local and tribal health departments.”

Hanson said their main focus right now is on frontier, rural, and tribal health departments.

“Right now, we are providing technical assistance,” Hanson said. “It could be with communication, social media, writing policies and procedures. We are also looking at how they can show data and metrics around COVID. We are just trying to provide any support that is needed on areas that they may not have the capacity or the expertise to do right now.”

A lot of the focus is on COVID right now, but Hanson said local health departments will need to regroup when this pandemic finally ends.

“We have seen lots of turnovers in health departments so we know we are going to have training and mentorship needs to get public health departments back where they were at before on different programs,” Hanson said. “Then we want to keep looking at how we can add efficiencies and ensure that we are doing things in a nimble and flexible way to serve the health needs of communities.”

Hanson went on to explain how this new institute is being funded.

“We received initial funding from the Montana Healthcare Foundation to get off our feet,” Hanson said. “They have put forward about four and a half years of funding because our first year was a little short. We also already have several grants through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. We will be looking for other funding to create a sustainable ongoing institute for years to come.”

The Montana Healthcare Foundation funded a feasibility study that led to the Institute's creation and continues to support its development with a $1.85 million grant over four years.

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