Helena, Lewis & Clark County consider health board oversight

Lewis and Clark Public Health
Posted at 12:21 AM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 02:21:00-04

HELENA — Helena and Lewis and Clark County leaders are looking at options for who should be responsible for ratifying recommendations from the city-county health board.

The city and county commissions discussed the issue during a joint work session Tuesday afternoon.

During this year’s legislative session, Montana lawmakers passed several bills that limited local health boards’ authority to implement health-related restrictions. Now, a “local governing body” must approve those restrictions and sign off on the hiring of a local health officer. That body also has the power to amend health officers’ emergency orders.

Since Helena and Lewis and Clark County share a joint health board, the new laws require them to select what entity will serve as the governing body. On Tuesday, the commissioners discussed two main options: simply having the county commission handle it, or setting up a new panel with representatives from the county and the cities of East Helena and Helena.

Supporters of using the county commission said it would be the simplest option, since there would be no jurisdictional confusion and the county already does much of the oversight on Lewis and Clark Public Health’s operations.

Those who wanted a new body said it was important for the cities to have their own representation in these decisions.

“We owe explanation – we owe it to 31-point-something thousand people, we owe explanation to them and we represent those people,” said Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins. “So leaving it in the hands of the county, no.”

Many of the commissioners said they would be interested in considering a model for a panel that would include two county commissioners, two members of the Helena city commission and the mayor of East Helena.