The Pondera County Commissioners have hired Shannon Elings, LPN, to fill one of the vacancies in the Pondera County Health Department (PCHD). According to Pondera County Commissioner Tom Kuka, Elings will start her position as Disease Intervention Specialist and School Nurse on Dec. 21. Her salary and benefit package will be split 50/50 between Pondera County and the Conrad School District, said Kuka. Elings will be paid $24.29 per hour.

Nicki Sullivan, who served as PCHD Director for over three years, submitted her resignation to the County Commissioners on Oct. 29. Shauna Wood, County Health Nurse, resigned the same day. Nov. 2, Tammy Totdahl, Prevention Specialist also resigned. All of the resignations were effective Nov. 27. The last of the department’s employees, administrative assistant Michaela Orcutt, submitted her resignation to the Commissioners on Dec. 10, confirmed Kuka.

The Pondera County Commissioners recently hired John Burns of Conrad and Samantha Potter of Big Sandy to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing at a rate of $17 per hour. Potter is doing the job by telephone from Big Sandy, said Kuka, and Burns mans the PCHD office. Both have completed online training offered by the University of Montana, added Kuka. County officials hope to hire an additional contact tracer, “but for right now they are keeping up,” said Kuka. 

The contact tracers are temporary full-time positions, so they do not receive county benefits, he clarified.

Kuka said the Pondera County Commissioners are looking for more of an “administrator” for the vacant director position and not necessarily a healthcare professional. Acording to Kuka, the job entails a lot of reporting as well as budgeting and grant responsibilities. “It’s more of an administrator-type position” which doesn’t require the health experience of a registered nurse, he pointed out.

Kuka said the Commissioners are “rebuilding” the PCHD and are confident they will “come up with a service that is every bit as good, if not better…”

He assured the Pondera Commissioners are committed to continuing to provide all of the services previously offered under the PCHD. Teton County is the “lead agency for the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) Nutrition Program and has contracted with Marias Healthcare Services to provide WIC services in Pondera County to ensure no disruption to services.

“For the most part, the public has been positive,” said Kuka. 

Sullivan and her staff cited several issues as their reasons for resigning, among them: the need for additional staff or contact tracing for COVID-19, a streamlined hiring process, lack of open and productive lines of communication with county leaders and inadequate pay. 

Sullivan said she requested meetings with the County Commissioners to discuss these issues but the Commissioners failed to schedule a properly noticed open meeting with Sullivan, who gave county officials four weeks notice before leaving her position.

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