Commissioners Approve Hiring of Health Officer on Interim Basis

It’s possible the search for someone to step into the health officer position on a more long-term basis will continue into 2023

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

Flathead County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday morning to approve the hiring of Jennifer Rankosky as the health officer for the county on an interim basis.

The vote came after a special Flathead City-County Board of Health meeting on June 2 in which the board voted to recommend the move to the commissioners. House Bill 121, which passed during the last legislative session with mostly Republican support, requires a board of health recommend to its governing body the appointment of a local health officer.

Rankosky has worked for the county health department for more than 20 years, and is currently the department’s population health manager. She has a masters in public health, which means she meets the statutory requirements for a health officer in Montana.

Flathead County has been searching for a health officer for more than two years, and based on recent discussion from the board of health and county human resources director Tammy Skramovsky, it’s possible the search will continue into 2023.

Skramovksy told the commissioners that Rankosky’s hiring was for up to one year.

“That doesn’t mean it has to take the full year. I did put in there we’re anticipating somewhere around eight to 12 months,” Skramovsky said, referring to the offer letter she had prepared to deliver to Rankosky. Skramovsky had previously told the board of health that it was her understanding that Rankosky did not want to serve in the position for more than a year.

At the special meeting in early June, the board discussed resuming a nationwide search for a health officer sometime in the fall or winter, and Skramovsky estimated the process could take months to complete.

A recent health officer search ended after the board of health voted 4-2 against hiring a health officer candidate from Missouri after he underwent public interviews with the board of health and county commissioners. Commissioners then voted 2-1 against hiring the candidate, with Commissioner Randy Brodehl as the lone vote in favor.

The current county health officer, Joe Russell, had previously helmed the department for 20 years before retiring. He came out of retirement in 2020 to take over as health officer after the resignation of interim health officer Tamalee St. James Robinson, who described a “toxic environment” being fostered between the commissioners, board of health and health department, and was critical of what she saw as a failure of county commissioners and the board of health to protect the public.

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