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Commissioners pick veterinarian for health board vacancy

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | January 19, 2021 11:40 AM

The Flathead County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to appoint Jessica Malberg, a veterinarian with a background in public health, to the Flathead City-County Board of Health.

The nine-member board is now complete, with no positions expected to open until the end of this year. While the position is normally a three-year term, Malberg will only hold her seat for one year because she is taking over for former board member Tamalee St. James Robinson, who left two years into her term.

During a public meeting, the commissioners all said they had whittled the 10 applicants down to Malberg and Sharise Clostio, a longtime midwife and home health nurse. Their choice largely came down to Malberg’s background in veterinary medicine — experience they said the board is currently void of.

“We had quite a lineup,” Commissioner Pam Holmquist said. “Some people don’t understand that the Health Board doesn’t just deal with just medical conditions. COVID-19 has highlighted that part of the board, but again, that’s not all we deal with. I’ve sat on the board for 10 years and we have never had a veterinarian on the board.”

The health department oversees the Flathead County Animal Shelter and deals with various animal-related concerns, such as communicable diseases that can be transferred between animals and people. And according to Malberg’s application, she is “able to provide educated assessments of the health of our animal population, assess for evidence of zoonotic infections, determine the risk for disease transmission and help further guard the residents of Flathead County against communicable diseases.”

Commissioner Randy Brodehl also highlighted Malberg’s background in public health as being an asset to the board. In addition to having a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine, Malberg has a master’s of science in public health.

Also along the public health vein, the Flathead Valley resident has studied how changing access to primary care affects public health, and she volunteered at free veterinary vaccination clinics while working with impoverished communities in order to “help provide for the medical and physical needs of their pets,” her application states.

Malberg had some steep competition for the seat, including local doctors, nurses and other individuals with careers in marketing and business. In an interview last week, Health Officer Joe Russell acknowledged the elected officials had a tough choice to make.

Prior to casting their votes, the commissioners noted several board positions will be open at the end of the year, though board members can also apply for additional terms. According to the Flathead City-County Health Department’s website, the terms of board members Bill Burg, Ronalee Skees and Pete Heyboer all expire Dec. 31, 2021, as will Malberg’s.

“We have about 11 months left in this position and then we will have some other positions come open. I would encourage the community and the applicants to remember that,” Brodehl said. We recognize that we still have experiences that need to be filled that we didn’t have filled on this go around.”

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