Following a nationwide search, the Missoula City County Health Department has looked within and selected D’Shane Barnett to replace outgoing Health Officer Ellen Leahy.

Barnett, currently the executive director of the All Nations Health Center, spoke to KGVO News this week and said he has been working within the public health system for his entire career.

“The thing about Indian Health is that it is part of the public health system,” said Barnett. “We take public health and we translate it and we apply it, and in order to do that you really have to know public health. All of my formal education and training is in broad public health. I have a Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration. I'm also getting my PhD in Public Health. None of that is specific to Indian health. The idea is that I have to take all of the principles and knowledge found within public health and apply them and I've been doing that for 25 years.”

Asked about the pounding that current Health Officer Ellen Leahy has taken through social media since the pandemic began, Barnett said he has already developed a thick skin for criticism.

“You have to develop that thick skin; you have to let criticism roll off but still be able to be open minded and learning when you can actually make improvement when that criticism is actually going to help you do your job better, and then balancing it out,” he said. “Things that are outside of my control are outside of my control. I can't control other people's comments, their actions, their thoughts; what I can control is how I take all of the information and resources that I have available to me and put those to work to improve the health of our community.”

Barnett was aware of laws making their way through the legislature that will take power away from health officers and force them to submit to their elected officials.

“I'm used to having to work with elected officials,” he said. “All of the work that I've been able to accomplish over the years has been by working with either elected officials at the local level, the state level, or the federal level, and in my work at All Nations right now, I have a great working relationship with our county commissioners, staff and leadership with the City Council with our city staff and leadership.”

Barnett said the timing of his hiring will give him the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with outgoing Health Officer Ellen Leahy.

“The idea is that I get to spend possibly six weeks with her really getting updated on everything that is moving forward in the different departments and all of the projects that the county has underway, and the idea is that when she does step out at the end of June, that none of those projects miss a beat, that work goes on and the transition is smooth, and everything just flows as best as it can.”

After over 30 years of service, Ellen Leahy will retire in June.

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