City and County Commissioners held a joint meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the future of the Board of Health in light of a bill signed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in the spring that limited the authority of local health boards.
This meeting marked the beginning of the commissioners’ discussion on the topic, and no final decisions were made. However, it was mutually agreed upon that a memorandum of understanding would be added to the current 1975 City-County Health Agreement that would label one of the commissions as the “governing body,” at least temporarily, in order to be in compliance with HB 121. This has yet to be officially decided or implemented.
HB 121 was signed into law by Gianforte in April, requiring a government body in charge of oversight of any local Board of Health, with the ability to override actions taken by the board in response to an emergency. Cascade County and the city of Great Falls won’t be in compliance with HB 121 until the oversight government body has been determined. The health agreement from 1975 stipulated that the city and county have a joint health department and established the Board of Health, which has been honored with little modification since.
County Commissioner Joe Briggs said the county should be the governing body because of the legislative intent of HB 121. He said if the city were to take that role, they would be impacting citizens outside city lines that don’t vote for them.
City Commissioner Mary Moe expressed concern at that idea because she wanted to ensure the city’s involvement in case something were to happen before an official governing body was assembled.
Briggs replied that he understood her concern and compared the situation to how the county pays funds for the police dispatch, however, it is under the jurisdiction of the city. Briggs also mentioned during the meeting that he saw the county as paying a disproportionate amount for the City-County Health Department and wanted to see that addressed as discussions continue.
There was also discussion of a potential working group to look at determining what the official governing body will be organized. Briggs said he envisioned the group being composed of one county staffer and one county commissioner, along with City-County Health Officer Trisha Gardner, and two city officials the city commission wanted to volunteer. Briggs said this would avoid the two person quorum rule, at least for the county.
City Commissioner Tracy Houck said she would like to see the potential working group’s findings by this December.
Discussions on this topic are slated to continue.
This meeting took place as the county is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, which the City-County Health Department attributes in part to the spread of the delta variant. CCHD Deputy Officer Bowen Trystianson said Wednesday that the delta variant is poised to become the dominant variant in the county.
Cascade County reported 33 new cases on Thursday. The county now has 170 active cases, 9,406 recoveries and 170 deaths. The county has administered 59,903 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 30,175 people fully vaccinated against the virus. Of the eligible population in the county, 44% are fully vaccinated.
The state posted 263 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing Montana’s total active confirmed reports to 1,216.
The state has 113,223 recoveries, 1,704 total deaths and 97 active hospitalizations from the virus, according to the state website covid19.mt.gov.
The state has administered 1,498,129 tests for the coronavirus, which is 3,540 more than Wednesday.
To date, there have been 892,334 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. There have been 442,170 residents fully immunized against COVID-19, meaning 48% of the state’s eligible population is inoculated against the virus.
Missoula County has the highest rate of vaccination at 61% and Garfield County is the least vaccinated with 23% of its eligible population inoculated.
Flathead County added the most new cases of any county on Thursday with 55 new cases for a total of 290. Flathead County also has the highest number of active cases in the state. Yellowstone County added 39 new cases for a total of 163 active cases. Missoula County has a total of 149 cases after adding 39 reports on Thursday. Gallatin County now has 81 active cases after adding 17 new cases. Lincoln County added 13 new cases for a total of 32 active cases. Ravalli County now has 23 active cases after adding eight cases Thursday. Deer Lodge County added seven cases and Silver Bow County added six cases. Jefferson County, Roosevelt County and Toole County each added five cases.
Nicole Girten is a Government Watchdog Reporter at the Great Falls Tribune. You can email her at [email protected]. To support coverage of Great Falls and Cascade County subscribe to the Tribune by finding the “Subscribe” link at the top of the page.