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Ten applicants vying for vacant Health Board seat

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | January 17, 2021 12:00 AM

Within a matter of days, the Flathead County commissioners are expected to appoint a new member to the Flathead City-County Board of Health, and based on the pool of candidates who submitted resumes and letters by the Jan. 8 deadline, the decision won’t be an easy one.

The vacant, unexpired term will begin once the individual is appointed and ends Dec. 31, 2021. The individual will be taking the seat of Tamalee St. James Robinson, who announced in early December she would be stepping down from her spot on the board as well as from her interim role as Public Health Officer at the end of 2020.

The new appointee will join eight other members and assist the group in exercising general supervision over the health department, which includes community health services, environmental health programs, inspection of public establishments for sanitary conditions and more.

Each candidate, according to documents they submitted to the commissioners, offers a range of backgrounds and experiences and represents different areas of the valley, from Bigfork to Whitefish. Most work within the health-care industry in some capacity, while others offer professional experiences in property and business management, education, finance and marketing.

By law, at least one commissioner must sit on the board and it is highly recommended that a practicing nurse or doctor join as well — two boxes the board already has checked off.

However, there are no requirements for the rest of the members, though there is the general expectation that they possess an interest in advancing the missions of public health.

THE LAST time the commissioners appointed new board members was in late 2019 when they selected Dr. Annie Bukacek, a local physician and outspoken vaccine critic, and Ardis Larsen, a longtime office manager for an engineering company who also performs field work and inspections. The two replaced Dr. Wayne Miller and Dr. David Meyerowitz, both of whom had applied for another term.

Many alleged the commissioners’ decision was political, though they have maintained their goal in appointing Bukacek and Larsen was to bring a diverse set of opinions to the board. And now, all eyes are on the commissioners once again, as they whittle down their top applicants amid an ongoing pandemic.

In recent interviews, commissioners Pam Holmquist, Randy Brodehl and Brad Abell said they are looking to fill the voluntary position with someone who will bring new expertise to the group.

“There is a perception out there that it’s a health board so all we focus on are human health issues. But the health department oversees a ton of other groups like environmental health and the animal shelter, and some of those need some more representation on the board,” said Holmquist, who has served on the Health Board for a decade.

Brodehl echoed Holmquist, stating “there are areas of the board that can be strengthened,” however, neither Brodehl nor Holmquist went into detail as to what those areas are in order to help keep their preferred candidates under wraps.

Abell, whose term began at the start of the new year, added that he is looking for someone who will “carefully weigh both sides of an issue” before voting on matters, and said the commissioners shouldn’t focus solely on the pandemic when making their decision.

“I’m not looking for a candidate with an ideology. I want them to look at all sides of an issue, listen to all the arguments, and come up with an answer,” Abell said. “We also need to look beyond COVID because with the way numbers are going now, this may all be behind us soon. So we need someone who can contribute in other ways.”

As for Health Officer Joe Russell, who came out of retirement to step into the role in early December, it is his hope that the elected officials will choose someone who not only understands public health and how a public health system benefits the community, but also someone who is also a strong addition to the existing board.

“We have some very strong applicants and I hope the commissioners consider each one of them very carefully,” Russell said. “A background in public health is preferred and we also need someone who will fit in with the board and help navigate some tough decisions.”

In an effort to keep the recruitment process fair, neither the commissioners nor Russell wished to publicly disclose the name of their top candidates.

THE DAILY Inter Lake reviewed all 10 applications. Below are brief summaries of the candidates’ professional backgrounds, based on their individual letters of intent:

• P. Sharise Clostio: Clostio has worked directly with women, their children, and the elderly in their homes for 26 years. A valley resident since 1965, she has delivered babies as a midwife, founded the Montana Midwives Cooperative, and in 2017 became a staff home health and hospice nurse at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

• John T. Fallon: Fallon is the current board president of Flathead County’s Water and Sewer District No. 1 in Evergreen. He also serves as the vice chair of the Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees and has been a trustee of the Evergreen Fire District Board since 2007.

• Karlene Khor: Khor is currently the member manager of La Lark LLC, and among other former roles, she served as president of Soroptimist International of Kalispell. She also has experience working in mosquito eradication and control.

• Erica Lorenzen Lengacher: Lengacher currently works as a critical care nurse at Kalispell Regional Medical Center and as an infection prevention and control specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation. She also has a background in public health, environmental contamination and education.

• D.J. Lopez: Lopez is a volunteer with the Flathead County Agency on Aging and assists with Meals on Wheels. She has also served on the Flathead AIDS Council, the Flathead Valley Crime Stoppers Board and worked in the Daily Inter Lake sales department for 20 years.

• Jessica Malberg-Fiftal: Malberg-Fiftal has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and a Masters of Science in Public Health. She has been involved with research of infectious diseases and epizootics and published a scientific peer-reviewed paper on the effectiveness of low-cost surveillance systems for detecting zoonotic diseases, among other experiences.

• Ken McFadden: McFadden was a practicing physician in the Flathead Valley for the better part of 40 years. He worked in family practice for three years, as a primary care internist for seven years and as an emergency room doctor and hospitalist for 22 years. He retired from active practice in 2017.

• Rebecca Norton: Norton is an occupational therapist working in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation. She also has leadership and management experience, a business background and has volunteered locally in the Flathead Valley for 20 years.

• Rebecca Sturdevant: Sturdevant worked as a family nurse practitioner for more than 20 years. She is semi-retired and is working part time doing home visits for Frontier Hospice and occasionally works for Wilderness Medical Staffing. She has served on the boards of the Montana Nurses Association and the Violence Free Crisis Line.

• Susan Votapka: Votapka is a recently retired registered nurse who worked in numerous institutional settings over the course of a 30-year career. Her areas of expertise are in post anesthesia care and critical care.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.