Public Interviews Planned with Health Officer Candidate

The county has been looking for a new health officer for two years. The candidate, Michael Chambers, has worked as the health administrator for the Macon County Health Department in Missouri since 2015.

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Flathead City-County Health Department on March 11, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead City-County Board of Health will be publicly interviewing a candidate for the health officer position this week. Later, the county commissioners, who have the final say on hiring a health officer, will also conduct an interview with the same candidate.

The man scheduled to be interviewed is Michael Chambers, the administrator for the Macon County Health Department in Missouri since 2015. According to a brief bio shared by the county, Chambers previously worked as the operations manager for Samaritan Hospital in Macon, MO, from 2004 to 2015. Prior to that Chambers worked at North Kansas City Hospital as an environmental services supervisor from 2001 through 2004.

Chambers holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business administration and health care management. State law requires that a health officer be either a physician or hold a master’s degree in public health or have the equivalent in education and experience.

The interview of Chambers comes after the board’s personnel committee reviewed applications from at least eight people. The county had hired an outside firm to conduct the hiring search. Commissioner Pamela Holmquist, who sits on the board of health, said in March that she expected at least five of the applicants to be interviewed by the board’s personnel committee. Health Officer Joe Russell said that some candidates withdrew because of the pay, which is $125,000 a year.

The board of health interview with Chambers is slated to begin at 11 a.m. the morning of April 19. A recommendation from the board will be forwarded to the county commissioners, but the commissioners are not beholden to that recommendation.

County commissioners are interviewing Chambers at 9 a.m. on April 20.

Macon County, where Chambers has worked since 2004, is a conservative county in northern Missouri with a population of about 15,000 people. Compared to Flathead County, Macon County has a lower median income than Flathead County, a slightly higher percentage of residents in poverty, a higher percentage of residents that are uninsured, and a higher percentage of residents with a disability, according to U.S. Census data. Macon County is demographically similar to Flathead County in terms of the age, sex and race of its residents.

The board of health has been seeking to fill the health officer position for two years, and current Health Officer Joe Russell has said he does not plan on remaining in his position beyond June 2022. Russell had worked for the Flathead health department for 30 years, including 20 years as health officer before he retired in 2017. He came out of retirement to replace Tamalee St. James Robinson, the county’s interim health officer who resigned in 2020 amid what she called “a toxic environment being fostered between the Commissioners, the Board of Health, and the Health Department.”

St. James Robinson became interim health officer after former health officer Hillary Hanson announced in March 2020 that she would not seek a renewal of her contract.

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