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New Health Institute Focuses On Research, Health Care Funding


Montana is now home to a public health institute. The Montana Public Health Institute is one of about 40 such institutes across the country.  The nonprofit will work to bolster the state’s public health system by bringing policy analysis and funding to county and tribal health departments.

The Montana Public Health Institute was backed by a five-year, $1.85 million grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation.

Former Flathead County Public Health Officer Hillary Hanson is serving as the Montana Health Institute’s Chief Operating Officer and first employee. Hanson says the effort to form the institute was underway before the coronavirus pandemic.

"And I think for the Montana Public Health Institute, COVID is really going to be our starting story."

Hanson says public health institutes around the country all do different things to strengthen public health systems from providing training support to local health departments to helping small departments apply for and manage grants.

Montana’s institute will focus primarily on leveraging funding to help county and tribal health departments and others in the state’s health system carry out local or statewide public health initiatives.

"The second piece we’re really looking at is the health policy component and wanting to put together neutral, non-partisan research assessment and analysis on public health issues," Hanson says.

That could look like analyzing local health departments' response to COVID-19 cases in their community to find out what went well and what did not. That analysis could provide guidance for future responses or may be used to educate state and local lawmakers who can then implement policy or provide more funding to aid public health workers.

The institute will focus on more than just the coronavirus pandemic. One of its first projects aims to bolster mental and behavioral health services across the state.

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