Health Board Discusses Separation of Health Center, Highlights COVID-19 Community Indicator System

New community indicator metrics show strained contact monitoring capacity, slow test result turnarounds

By Micah Drew

At its monthly meeting on Aug. 20, the Flathead City-County Health Board discussed the full separation of the Flathead Community Health Center (FCHC) and the Flathead City-County Health Department (FCCHD).

The FCCHD and the FCHC are currently separate entities but overlap in some administrative capacities.

“There has been a move away from health centers embedded in county entities,” FCHC Executive Director Mary Sterhan said.

The discussion centered around a letter of intent to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which administers grants for health care providers and entities. The letter is part of the process of transferring all grants currently under the responsibility of the county to the jurisdiction of the health center.

Flathead County has received more than $1.6 million this year in grants from HRSA to fund the Health Center Program, as well as supplemental CARES Act funding and a grant to expand testing capacity for the novel coronavirus. In addition, the county has received two grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

After initially passing a motion to approve the letter of intent, the health board rescinded the motion in order to further discuss the process of divesting from the health center and to make sure the documents are worded correctly.

Lisa Dennison, the county’s communicable disease coordinator, also gave the board an update on COVID-19. The county had 58 active cases as of Aug. 20 and was monitoring nearly 400 close contacts of those cases.

Dennison also introduced a new community indicator system that the health department is using to increase the amount of COVID-19-related data available. The community indicators include a weekly three-level grading system that evaluates several metrics of how the health department is able to manage its response to the novel coronavirus.

Several of the metrics were identified last month as part of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the time, Montana ranked in the bottom seven nationwide for reporting on the identified critical metrics.

Because each county reports different metrics and statistics related to COVID-19 cases, Montana is limited in what it can report as a state. However, the FCCHD began tracking these additional community indicator metrics to better monitor the virus outbreak in Flathead County.

The new metrics include average close contacts per case, new cases per investigator, capacity to monitor contacts, level of community concern, average number of hospitalizations, availability of PPE and testing supplies, and turnaround time for test results.

Each metric is graded on a three-level scale: green, yellow and red. For the week ending Aug. 16, the county had two green, three yellow and three red ratings.

Adequate capacity to conduct contact monitoring, level of community concern and average testing turnaround time all received a red status. According to the status breakdown, this means the health department is not able to monitor close contacts of positive cases every two days, that it has received more than 75 calls a day about the virus and that results are taking more than 72 hours.

Community indicators for the last eight weeks can be viewed here.

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