MISSOULA — Missoula County is getting a new Health Officer when Ellen Leahy retires in June.
MTN News met with D'Shane Barnett who told us all about what he hopes to accomplish.
Barnett is a dog-lover, husband, father, and native Missoulian.
"I was born here, my husband and I are raising our son here," Barnett said. "My parents, grandparents, I have literally known these mountains since the day I was born, and to play a role in maintaining and protecting the health of this community is so important, and such an honor for me."
After a nationwide search, he was recently selected as Missoula County's incoming health officer.
"When I told some people I was going to apply for the position, they said to be a health director right now you would have to be crazy. And I said I am, I'm crazy in love with Missoula.
Barnett currently holds the role of executive director at the All Nations Health Center in Missoula.
"A year ago, nobody even knew what a health director was, people didn't even really pay attention that much to the health department. I think this is an opportunity for us really to interact and engage with the community. And by the community, I mean everybody."
During his time at All Nations, Barnett advocated for the health of Native people. Barnett, who is Mandan/Arikara, says it's important to him to highlight the health issues facing Missoula's diverse communities.
"In Missoula, we actually have several subsegments of our population that do experience health disparities. We know, this last year has really brought a lot of attention to the BIPOC community, or people of color, but we have LGBTQ, single parents, both mothers and fathers, we have the underemployed. A lot of people talk about unemployment, but especially during this pandemic, the underemployed, they are all at risk."
Barnett is also the former director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health in Washington, D.C. Currently, he's is completing his doctorate in public health at the University of Montana.
"We're in a position right now where public health, it's not just that it's visible. It's that people understand that public health cannot operate in a silo," Barnett observed. "This is a time for public health to reach out and work with everyone in our community..... that includes all of the people who live here in Missoula who we call our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors. We are all in this together, and this pandemic has highlighted that more than ever."