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UM, health dept. collaborate to provide resources for students

Posted at 11:31 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 13:31:37-05

MISSOULA — As we get closer to a COVID vaccine, and we begin to enter in to a new semester, to some the pandemic seems like it’s coming to an end.

But the University of Montana and Missoula City-County Health Department said in a virtual symposium on Thursday, they are not done working.

“I just don’t know what we would do. We would be flying blind without this local ability," said Ellen Leahy.

About a year ago, the University of Montana and the Missoula City-County Health Department formed a joint effort-the Academic Health Department.

Based out of UM, the AHD set out to tackle health concerns like wildfire smoke, and generational poverty, and then, coronavirus hit.

“The fact that Missoula is a place where we can still work together to solve problems for the greater good, will likely benefit us as we move forward through even more uncharted territory," Mayor John Engen said.

School of Public and Community Health Sciences said the AHD is the only academic and public health relationship in Montana, making it the 21st state to have a similar program in the US.

“The ability to be able to hire people into our health department who have that background in public health has been invaluable," said Cindy Farr.

And the collaboration of course is helping students grow their careers.

Student and alumna Rebecca Elderkin said the classes were meaningful and impactful. “This quality of the program is the most important and what I’ll remember for years to come.”

Health Officer Ellen Leahy said this data has helped guide some of her local orders.“We meet with the schools every other week, we meet with elected officials, I meet with the Board committee, I meet with business groups, and we use this to talk through where we’re at.”

Leahy also added that this partnership has also helped UM’s covid testing lab be able to provide actual test results to the state, and improve testing locally.

“UM again is going to help with this, because UM lab, who were just talking with DPHHS, is going to become more available to us in Missoula, and we won’t have some of our labs diverted.”

Although Leahy is set to retire from her Health Officer position soon, she said she hopes to see this collaboration between the University and the health department continue.

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