Missoula Health Board to consider finalists for Health Officer

Following a nationwide search, the Missoula City-County Board of Health will consider four finalists to replace outgoing Health Officer Ellen Leahy when she retires in June after serving in that role for more than 30 years. There will be several opportunities this week for the public to participate in the process, including community meetings with each candidate.

These meetings will feature representatives from a broad cross-section of interests, including BIPOC and LGBTQ communities; area healthcare providers and emergency services; bars, restaurants and entertainment venues; community councils; aging services; advocates for people experiencing homelessness and low- to moderate-income residents; education; environmental groups; and other community organizations. Members of the public can listen in to these meetings via Microsoft Teams. Health board members also will interview each of the finalists on Friday, March 26, starting at 9:30 a.m. The interviews will be conducted via Teams and will be open to the public.

The board will take public comment following the final interview, and residents can also submit comment ahead of time by emailing Karen Harrison, Missoula County human resources director, at kharrison@missoulacounty.us. A schedule of the public meetings and information on how to join via Teams is available online at http://missoula.co/healthofficersearch. The four finalists are:

Eric Aakko, Greeley, Colorado, has worked in population-based public health at the state and local levels for 25 years. He is currently the director of the Division of Health Education, Communication and Planning for the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment. He has a bachelor’s degree in corporate and community wellness management from Southern Adventist University, a master’s degree in organizational communication from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, and is a master certified health education specialist.

D’Shane Barnett (Mandan/Arikara), Missoula, currently serves as the executive director of All Nations Health Center in Missoula. He has worked in the American Indian health field for more than two decades and is the former executive director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health in Washington, D.C. Barnett earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with an option in inequality and social justice, from the University of Montana and has a master’s degree in healthcare administration and interprofessional leadership from the University of California, San Francisco. He is currently completing his doctorate in public health at UM.

Brian Hanft, Mason City, Iowa, has 25 years of experience in public health and currently serves as director of the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. He has a bachelor’s degree in environmental planning from the University of Northern Iowa and a master’s in public administration from Drake University. He is a graduate of the National Center for Environmental Health’s Environmental Public Health Leadership Institute and is a registered environmental health specialist through the National Environmental Health Association.

Sara Heineman, Missoula, has worked in public health for 14 years and is currently the Health Services Division Director, International Travel Clinic Nurse Practitioner and Operations Section Chief for the COVID-19 response at the Missoula City-County Health Department. She has a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health/applied health from Montana Tech, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Montana State University, and she recently received a certificate of public health from the University of Montana as she works toward earning a dual master’s degree in public health and public administration from UM.

"The Missoula health board is extremely grateful for Ellen’s service and the knowledge and compassion she’s brought to this position for the last 30 years, especially as we faced the COVID pandemic,” board Chairman Ross Miller said. “Finding her replacement is no easy task, and we feel fortunate to have four high-caliber finalists who all have a wealth of experience and education in public health, both from within and outside our community. We find ourselves in the fortunate position of having a difficult decision ahead of us.”

The Missoula City-County Board of Health is the policy-making body that determines the goals, objectives, and programs for the delivery of public health services to Missoula County residents. The board has statutory authority and responsibility, including rulemaking and adjudication, as well as budgeting authority. The seven-member board is responsible for selecting the health officer, who carries out statutory duties and directs the health department. The Missoula City Council and the Missoula Board of County Commissioners each appoint two citizens and one elected official to the health board, and the health board then appoints a local physician as the seventh member.


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