Missoula County, City launch COVID-19 Vaccination Coordination Team

Missoula County’s Office of Emergency Management, in partnership with the City of Missoula, will stand up a Type 3 Incident Management Team to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine administration throughout the county.

OEM Director Adriane Beck will oversee the efforts of the Missoula County Vaccination Coordination Team, which will open lines of coordination among all vaccine providers to ensure accurate and timely information and data exchange, coordinated vaccine efforts, sharing of resources where appropriate, and planning for each of the phases of vaccination in Missoula County. This team will remain in place until COVID-19 vaccine is widely available in Missoula County to any resident 16 or older who wants to get vaccinated.

Employing the incident management structure, more typically used in Missoula County to respond to natural disasters like wildfires and flooding, will provide the command and management infrastructure to coordinate logistical, fiscal, planning, operational, safety and other aspects of a large-scale vaccination effort among the many entities that will administer the vaccine as we move into Phase 1B.

“As the county enters Phase 1B and beyond, the team will develop strategies for identifying and connecting eligible citizens with a vaccine provider for administration as well as coordinate efforts around mass vaccination events across Missoula County,” Beck said.

The IMT will help centralize efforts among local hospitals and other healthcare providers, the University of Montana, the health department, pharmacies and other vaccine providers.

“We ask for the public’s patience as we develop the strategies necessary to ensure all those Missoula County residents who meet the phase 1B criteria can be connected to a vaccine provider in the quickest, most efficient manner possible,” Beck said. “We also ask for our citizens to be active participants in this process, pay attention to prioritization criteria, be informed about where you personally fall into the categorization and be ready to receive the vaccine when it is time. Much like boarding an airplane, the process goes much quicker when those waiting to board are ready to get in line when their section is called.”

Once these strategies are finalized, communicating up-to-date, accurate information about them to the public will be crucial. The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center, which consists of the multiple government agencies and community organizations responding to COVID-19, will help ensure timely information is widely distributed through the news media, social media, online at covid19.missoula.co and other channels.

Missoula County to Award COVID-19 Job Retention Grants to 27 Local Businesses

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved distribution of $624,738 from the COVID-19 Small Business Job Retention Fund to 27 local businesses impacted by the pandemic to help them retain jobs for low- to moderate-income employees.  

Of the grants awarded, 58% went to businesses in the food and drink industry, for a total distribution of $365,000. Twelve percent went to retail businesses, 10% to professional services, 10% to preschool/childcare, 6% to transportation and the remaining 4% to businesses in the lodging industry.  

The 27 recipients experienced an average 45% decline in revenue since the beginning of the pandemic and had to lay off 158 employees. Without the grant funding, it is projected there would be another 166 layoffs in the first three months of 2021. 

“Demand for the funds was overwhelming,” said Melissa Gordon, program manager for Grants and Community Programs. “While the county isn’t able to provide assistance to every business in need, I am hopeful the program will provide the support necessary for grant recipients to retain employment opportunities and stay afloat until the new federal assistance becomes available.”   

In total, the county received 126 applications requesting $2.875 million in funding. The application portal opened at 9 a.m. Dec. 10, and it only took a few hours for the amount of funding requested to exceed the amount available. Applications were considered on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The grants are supported through the Community Development Block Grant Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, which are federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds intended to stimulate economic development by providing loans and/or grants to create or retain jobs for low- and moderate-income people. Low- to moderate-income is defined as individuals or families whose household income is up to 80% of the median income for the area when adjusted for family size.  

With the sunsetting of current state and federal COVID-19 assistance programs and the slow winter season just around the corner, commissioners allocated a portion of the available CDBG funds to provide working capital grants to help retain jobs and reduce the significant fiscal impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses and the Missoula workforce. 

Public Q & A on Temporary Safe Outdoor Space set for Dec. 16

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is located on a parcel of privately owned land north of Highway 93 between Buckhouse Bridge and Blue Mountain Road. The private property is leased to Hope Rescue Mission for $1. 

The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center for COVID-19 will hold a public question-and-answer session on the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, a project of United Way of Missoula County and Hope Rescue Mission, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, from noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom.

The forum will feature a brief overview of the project and then will be open for the general public and news reporters to ask questions.

Missoula’s Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is a safe, healthy, secure area on private land, staffed 24/7, that will house 40 unsheltered people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is being offered during our public health emergency because no local providers of food, shelter or services are able to operate at full capacity. A large number of people are living outdoors in unsafe situations without sanitary facilities.

The Q & A will feature Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County; Eric Legvold, director of impact at United Way; Jim Hicks, executive director of Hope Rescue Mission; and April Seat, the Mission’s Director of Outreach. Others on hand to answer questions will be Adriane Beck, director of the Office of Emergency Management; Chet Crowser, Chief Planning Officer for Missoula County; and Anne Hughes, Missoula County Chief Operating Officer.

The costs to set up the temporary space are being reimbursed through federal CARES Act money, so no local taxpayer dollars are involved. United Way and Hope Rescue Mission are seeking additional funding to sustain the site through the winter. United Way and Mission leaders held a press conference about the plans on Nov. 20, but misinformation persists in the community. The Joint Information Center is sponsoring this forum to foster clear public information.

The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center for COVID-19 (JIC) is responsible for COVID-19-related public information that is not specifically illness-related. It is part of the response to the pandemic led by the Office of Emergency Management, which serves all of Missoula County. The communications staff of the City and County, Allison Franz at Missoula County and Ginny Merriam at the City, lead the unit.

For more information about the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, visit the online FAQ.

Please click the link below to join the Zoom webinar:

https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/j/84045466167?pwd=YWtsRHBoRCsrT1lXQyt0ZTZ3Z1FHQT09
Passcode: 117479

Or iPhone one-tap : US: +12532158782,,84045466167# or +12133388477,,84045466167#

Or Telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 213 338 8477 or +1 267 831 0333

Webinar ID: 840 4546 6167
International numbers available: https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/u/kcTD9olSUz

For more information about the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, visit this Q & A online: https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/administration/commissioners-office/temporary-safe-outdoor-spaceHere are the Zoom instructions for the meeting:You are invited to a Zoom webinar.When: Dec 16, 2020 12:00 PM Mountain Time (US and Canada)Topic: Public Q & A on Temporary Safe Outdoor SpacePlease click the link below to join the webinar:https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/j/84045466167?pwd=YWtsRHBoRCsrT1lXQyt0ZTZ3Z1FHQT09Passcode: 117479 Or iPhone one-tap : US: +12532158782,,84045466167# or +12133388477,,84045466167# Or Telephone: Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 213 338 8477 or +1 267 831 0333 Webinar ID: 840 4546 6167 International numbers available: https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/u/kcTD9olSUz

Public, media invited to attend virtual meeting of Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

The next meeting of the Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, June 26, via Microsoft Teams. Members of the public and media are invited to attend the meeting, which will feature discussion on efforts to reform the criminal justice system locally.

Agenda items include discussing proposals for future criminal justice reforms in Missoula County, such as increased funding for crisis intervention, implicit bias, LGBTQ+ and trauma-informed trainings, as well as a jail diversion initiative specific to Native American populations, who are disproportionately represented in the Missoula County Detention Facility. Currently, 17 % of MCDF inmates identify as Native American, compared with 4 % of county residents who identify as Native American.

District Court Judge Leslie Halligan, who serves as the current chair of the CJCC, will lead the meeting. There will be opportunity for public comment and questions from the news media at the end.

The media and public can join the meeting via Teams using the information below:

Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
+1 406-272-4824
Conference ID: 596 772 250#

MCAT also plans to stream the meeting live on its website and Facebook page

The CJCC is a multi-agency collaboration that uses a data-driven approach to reforming the local criminal justice system, which includes reducing the jail population, addressing ethnic and racial disparities, and more effectively responding to mental health issues. It was established and is primarily funded through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a nationwide effort to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Three county staff members in the CJCC Department directly support the council’s work.

“In light of renewed calls for criminal justice reform from the national to local levels, we want to make sure the public knows what the CJCC in Missoula County is doing and how they can get involved,” said Kristen Jordan, CJCC manager. “Our team is doing great work, though we know there’s still much to do to ensure an equitable justice system for all in Missoula County.”

Current CJCC initiatives include:

  • Applying for a $125,000 grant through the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mobile crisis team that would respond to a call for someone in mental health crisis instead of law enforcement or other first responders. This team would include two mental health professionals to assess and assist the person in crisis and a peer-support specialist and/or case manager to ensure the person receives follow-up treatment and mental health services. Using a mobile crisis team would reduce jail bookings and emergency room visits, decrease arrests and prosecutions, and allow for more appropriate use of law enforcement and first responder time. If awarded, the county and City of Missoula will provide matching funding, which, coupled with grant funds received earlier this year, would total $380,000 to get a mobile crisis team up and running. Research shows that every dollar spent on mobile crisis saves $5 to $7 elsewhere in the criminal justice system.
  • An effort to analyze the result of releasing pre-trial inmates accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes from Missoula County Detention Facility amid COVID-19 concerns. MCDF reduced their population by approximately 50% by releasing inmates who met these criteria in March and have not rebooked the majority of them as they await trial. CJCC staff are collecting data to determine the rate at which they were re-arrested and/or missed court dates. While releasing inmates accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes was already taking place at a slower, more methodical pace before the pandemic, the data gathered from releasing a large number of inmates at once will prove invaluable to the CJCC as it develops and implements more programs to address the root causes of crime, including poverty, addiction and mental health issues.  

  • Implementation of Calibrate, a prosecution-led pre-trial diversion program housed in the County Attorney’s Office. This voluntary program offers some criminal defendants an opportunity to have their criminal charges dismissed if they successfully complete a treatment plan specific to their needs. Treatment plans may include financial counseling, inpatient treatment for addictions and restitution. 

  • Increased use of the Public Safety Assessment, a risk assessment tool that uses nine factors to predict whether an individual will commit a new crime or fail to return to a scheduled court hearing if released before trial.  

  • Development of the Jail Data Dashboard, which is available online. It depicts several key data points that are essential in understanding the jail population and helps to identify, analyze, solve and manage systems issues in the criminal justice process, such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

To learn more about the CJCC, view the Jail Data Dashboard, and review meeting minutes and agendas, head to missoula.co/cjcc.

Missoula County elected officials: We must work together to ensure justice for all

Protest
Protesters gather at the Missoula County Courthouse in May.

On May 25, 2020, our nation witnessed the horror of George Floyd dying with a police officer’s knee pressed into his neck. Mothers everywhere, from Minneapolis to Maine to Missoula, winced hearing a dying man call to his own.

This act is but a snapshot of hundreds of years of oppression. Much of the United States was built on stolen land with stolen labor, and these centuries old crimes still echo today, across generations. As your Missoula County elected officials, we share a vision of a just future, yet do not pretend to know the exact path forward.  Though some of us have faced discrimination, we have all benefited from structural racism. Much of our knowledge of racial injustice comes from shared stories rather than personal experiences.  Nonetheless, we are committed to amplifying and including the voices of those who do understand.

We embrace the right to peacefully protest, encourage our citizens to exercise their right to peacefully assemble and speak their minds, without violence. Across the country people from every walk of life are saying — loud and clear — ENOUGH.  We hear you and agree with you.

We are willing to listen and to take further action.  Some of the steps we’ve made to examine and address inequality in our local criminal justice system include rolling out our comprehensive jail diversion plan, launching our prosecution-led diversion program and reforming our pre-trial system.  We’ve invited the National Native Children’s Trauma Center to inform criminal justice employees of the devastating impacts of historical trauma of Native people and teach us the practice of cultural humility. As a county government, we’re proud of our relationship with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. We are committed to understanding why American Indians are disproportionately represented in detention and what additional steps we can take to address historical injustices.

We have people working exclusively on equity issues in our public health department and at the Partnership Health Center clinic. And we understand all our work must be considered through an equity lens. Even so, inequality persists and we must address it now.

There is a lot of work to be done and, as your elected officials, we shoulder the burden of change. This work must be perpetual, so we are making a sustained commitment. We expect that you will hold us to account and appreciate your involvement. Please join us in this effort.

Over the course of the past two weeks, in the midst of violence and devastation, we also saw unlikely alliances and witnessed acts of unprecedented solidarity and kindness: the organizer of a conservative rally invited a Black Lives Matter activist to the stage; law enforcement professionals denounced the actions of racist officers; a sheriff and his deputies responding to a call for security, instead joined the march with protesters; a stalwart row of blue uniforms in Texas took a knee in honor of those who’ve been slain and those who marched.

Robert Kennedy said each time a person “stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Let’s keep working together — starting with ripple —  so that the tragic events of last month mark the end of the long night of injustice for people of color in our community and signal a new day, one that honors the legacy of George Floyd, and all who came before him, by implementing — not just promising — justice for all.

Signed,

Alex Beal, Missoula County Justice of the Peace
Dave Strohmaier, Missoula County Commissioner
David Wall, Missoula County Auditor
Erin Lipkind, Missoula County Superintendent of Schools
Josh Slotnick, Missoula County Commissioner
Juanita Vero, Missoula County Commissioner
Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney
Landee Holloway, Missoula County Justice of the Peace
Shirley Faust, Missoula County Clerk of Court
TJ McDermott, Missoula County Sheriff
Tyler Gernant, Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer

*A version of this post was also submitted to several area news organizations