Havre Daily News
The Hill County Health Department learned this week it received a $1.7 million, two-year grant that will almost double the department's size and allow it to expand into new offices.
The grant, provided by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, will pay for about 14 positions, many of them new, health department staffer Jennifer Brandon said Wednesday. It may also allow the department to move to the Hill County Courthouse Annex, which has sat nearly empty for two months, since its biggest tenant - the Hill County Office of Public Assistance - moved.
After the first two years of the grant, the health department is eligible for more federal funds, Brandon added.
"We're strengthening what's already there," she said of the purpose of the grant, called the Healthy Communities Access Planning Grant.
It will fund two outreach workers, one to work at Northern Montana Hospital and another to travel to communities throughout the county to hear from people about the kinds of services they need. The outreach workers will be there to tell them about those programs already available to them.
The outreach worker at the hospital will help people find services not available there, Brandon said.
The grant will also pay for two case workers, who will help clients work through the oftentimes labyrinthine application forms for Medicaid, Medicare and other state and federal health programs, Brandon said.
The grant also provides vouchers for people who qualify. They will help pay for medical services, including dental appointments, medications and health screenings.
With the new funds, the health department will be able to expand the direct health services it provides by hiring an additional family nurse practitioner and contracting with other health consultants, Brandon said.
The grant will also fund office staffers, who will work in supporting roles, creating educational materials, linking computer systems, overseeing budgets and administering the grant.
Finally, the grant will provide personnel, software and equipment for tracking disease community by community. Once that's in place, health officials will be able to determine the biggest health risks in different populations. Officials will be able to better prepare for emergencies by knowing, in an emergency, who they will have to treat, where, Brandon added.
Officials are determining whether they can offer the services made possible through the grant to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation as well.
"That would be ideal," Brandon said.
With all the staff positions the grant creates, there's no question that the health department needs more space, she said.
The health department has 16 employees who work in what officials say are already cramped quarters in the Hill County Courthouse basement.
The new funds may allow the county to use the Hill County Courthouse Annex, which officials hope will soon be home to a health clinic. The health department is trying for a separate U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant to pay for one, but in the meantime, health department officials say the the two-year grant could lay the groundwork for the clinic and pay the rent at the annex.
When she toured the annex in July, Hill County Commission chair Kathy Bessette said it looked like it was meant to hold medical offices.
The commissioners could not be reached for comment on the grant or the future of the annex because Bessette and Doug Kaercher are in Billings for a Montana Association of Counties conference. Kaercher was set to be confirmed president of the association at this week's conference. Mike Anderson is in Louisiana assisting with hurricane relief.