Missoula, UM Partnership Creates New Academic Health Department

September 16, 2019

MISSOULA – The Missoula City-County Health Department and the University of Montana have joined forces to create a new Academic Health Department.

The new organization will foster collaboration on public health research, practice and service. The UM side of the organization is based in the University’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences.

“We are excited to work with the Missoula City-County Health Department on this important achievement,” said Reed Humphrey, dean of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, which houses the UM school. “This makes Montana just the 21st state in the U.S. to have such an academic relationship. I’m convinced it will result in more extramural funding and more students earning certificates and degrees in public health. This is a significant step forward for UM in the region.”

The national Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice has recognized the new Academic Health Department, which is the only such organization in Montana.

Missoula’s AHD will focus on public health workforce education and training. Health department professionals will serve as mentors and advisers to UM public health students, and UM faculty members will contribute as instructors and technical advisers to health department professionals in practice.

Joint research efforts are off to a strong start within the new AHD, with collaborative research into wildfire smoke, immunizations and improving regulatory programs underway. These joint projects are similar to those undertaken by most of the nation’s AHDs.

However, the Missoula AHD has a unique service focus on improving health in some of Missoula’s lower-wealth neighborhoods. This initiative, “Invest Health,” involves students working within those neighborhoods as they are guided by faculty, health department officials and neighborhood leaders. The effort already has garnered the attention and funding of philanthropic organizations.

The AHD held its inaugural conference at UM on Sept. 4 to review these joint projects and plan future endeavors. 

“The Missoula City-County Health Board unanimously gave its approval and support to this formal partnership,” said Ross Miller, the board chair. “This effort deliberately brings the joint resource of our flagship university’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences and our nationally accredited Missoula City-County Health Department to bear on the improving our public health workforce and the public health of our citizens.”

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Contact: Ellen Leahy, director and health officer, Missoula City-County Health Department, 406-258-3882, eleahy@missoulacounty.us; Tony Ward, chair, UM School of Public and Community Health Sciences, 406-243-4092, tony.ward@umontana.edu.