D'Shane Barnett's new job is going to keep him close to home.
On Wednesday, the Missoula Health Board announced it had selected Barnett as the next county health officer. Born in Missoula and helping raise a family in the Garden City, the new position is deeply meaningful to him.
"I'm crazy in love with Missoula," Barnett told the Missoulian. "I was born here ... my husband and I are raising our son here. These mountains, I've literally known since the day I was born and if there is any way I can help make a difference in improving and protecting the health of our community for my son and his kids, I would be honored to be part of that."
Barnett will start at the Missoula City-County Health Department on May 17 and will take over for Ellen Leahy, who is retiring in June.
The county's health officer is responsible for administrative leadership in the health department while carrying out duties to protect public health.
“We are extremely fortunate to have D’Shane lead our health department and community into the future,” Ross Miller, Board of Health chairman, said in a news release. “... D’Shane’s vast experience with the public health needs of diverse communities will be an important aspect of his leadership. We look forward to supporting D’Shane in his new role as director and health officer of the Missoula City-County Health Department.”
He is the executive director at All Nations Health Center in Missoula, a position he's held since June 2018. He's worked with many health care professionals in the community and often with the MCCHD itself.
Barnett encouraged the Native American community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite a history of mistrust between tribes and the U.S. medical system. He led All Nations Health Center through a hectic time.
"All Nations is a small player in Missoula. But what I like to say is that we're small but mighty. And, you know, we have grown our services, we've expanded the types of services that we provide," Barnett said. "We are every day looking at ways that we can improve how we meet the needs of the community. And that's really, I think, what drives the work that we do."
Barnett, who is of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, which are also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, worked in the American Indian health field for more than 20 years and was formerly the executive director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health in Washington, D.C.
His time with the council, which supports and develops health services for Indigenous people in urban areas, dealt mostly with policy.
"My background experience is in Indian health, but the fact of the matter is the evidence shows that there are several sections of our community that experience health disparities," Barnett said. "And what we want to do as a county is maintain and improve everybody's health while at the same time decreasing those disparities that exist for people of color, for LGBTQ+, for other communities, for non-English first entities that are a part of our communities.
"They are our brothers and sisters, they're our neighbors and we are stronger together and if we make everybody in Missoula healthier, we all benefit."
Barnett earned his bachelor's degree in Missoula at the University of Montana in sociology with an option in inequality and social justice. He then earned his master's degree in health care administration and interprofessional leadership from the University of California, San Francisco. He is completing his doctorate in public health at UM.
Barnett was one of four finalists, all of whom were interviewed by community groups and organizations as well as the Missoula Board of Health last week.
"I am just thrilled actually to be able to work with (MCCHD) on a daily basis and I mean they're already doing great work and there's a lot of great work that's being done throughout the community and to be able to play a role in that, I'm thrilled. I'm anxious, I'm excited and I'm thrilled," Barnett said.
Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Contact him on Twitter @jordyhansen or via email at Jordan.Hansen@Missoulian.com