Trisha Gardner named as city-county public health officer

The county has named Trisha Garnder as the new Cascade County City-County Health officer.

Gardner has worked for 10 years at CCHD and most recently was the interim prevention services division manager and privacy officer.

The position has been vacant since Tanya Houston left to work for Alluvion in March, though the county contracted with Alluvion for Houston to continue filling the health officer role until August.

Alluvion, also known as the Community Health Care Center, is a federally qualified health center, and was a part of Cascade County government until it split and became a standalone agency on Jan. 1, 2019.

Over the year, county officials have had numerous discussions about the future of the city-county health department and over the summer, the county was moving forward with plans to outsource some public health functions to Alluvion.

Those plans crumbled when some county commissioners started asking for financial details from Alluvion and shortly thereafter, Alluvion withdrew from consideration in favor of other projects it was pursuing.

Over the summer, the city-county Board of Health, which governs the health department, wanted to hire a new health officer, but Commissioner Joe Briggs had reservation and during a September number presented financial figures to argue that the department was not sustainable as it’s currently structured. He said during that meeting he wanted discussions on outsourcing or reorganizing.

By the end of that September meeting, the consensus was to revise the health officer job description to include a core responsibility of reorganizing CCHD with a focus on prevention services and infectious disease.

After the job was revised, the county received six applicants, according to the Board of Health chairman.

Last week, Commissioner Jane Weber, who serves on the health board, said the interview process included three panels of varying community members and backgrounds and at the end of the day, those panels advanced two candidates for a second round of interviews.

The second round of interviews was conducted Nov. 15 with the three county commissioners, one city commissioner and the health board chair, Weber said.

During the Nov. 21 health board meeting, the board discussed the candidates in executive session. Weber said that since the Montana Department of Health and Human Services also had to sign off on the selected candidate, the county wouldn’t release the top candidate from the health board meeting.

According to a Nov. 27 release from the county, Gardner’s responsibilities will include the supervision of more than CCHD 40 employees.

The CCHD staff provides the following services:

  • “Administration works collectively to ensure fiscal responsibility and transparency; public health preparedness efforts are developed, exercised and
    implemented; accreditation is maintained; and communication with the
    public is accomplished in a timely and accurate manner.
  • Environmental Health Services focuses on providing a healthy and safe environment for residents through education, monitoring, inspections, and enforcement of state laws and regulations related to food service and other licensed public establishments, septic system permitting, water quality, subdivision review, air quality, and rabies prevention.
  • Prevention Services is engaged in preventing the spread of disease or injury in the community through immunizations; promotion of healthy choices and behaviors; investigating infectious disease outbreaks; and providing quality health information, education and connection to resources.
  • Family Health Services is aimed at enhancing the health and safety of families, pregnant women and children in our community by providing free home visiting services, nutrition education, lactation support, parenting classes, car seats, and assisting with accessing health care coverage or other community resources.”

According to the county release, “Garner has experience with accreditation, grant writing and oversight, program administration, quality assurance and improvement, staff supervision, and a high level of knowledge regarding the rules and regulations applicable to public health.”

Gardner is a Great Falls native with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York-Brockport, a master’s degree in early childhood education from Montana State University-Billings and a certification in public health management from the University of Washington Northwest Center for Public Health Practice.

“Trisha Gardner has been a key member of our CCHD leadership team for several years and we are excited to have her step into the role of public health officer and department head of the CCHD,” according to the county release.