By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE–With the October resignation of longtime Montrose Health & Human Services Director Peg Mewes and the Nov. 14 departure of interim HHS Director Carol Friedrich for Ouray and San Miguel counties, big changes are in store for the department.

Serving as Montrose Health & Human Services interim director is Public Health Director Kristin Pulatie.  Montrose HHS is presently searching for a human services director to run the department in tandem with Pulatie.

“For one person to be an expert in everything is a huge challenge,” Pulatie said, “so it makes sense to have two people with subject matter expertise at the helm of both departments.”

Montrose County Human Resources Director Corrine Shearer noted that the search for a Human Services Director is now focused internally.

“We like to use the talent we have,” Shearer said. “So we are collecting resumes and applications, and will close the search Dec. 1.”

Once the second director is on board, the two departments will work together, as they have in the past.

“One program is not more important than the other,” Pulatie said. “What is most important is that everything is integral, and that we are addressing immediate client needs. Once we have taken care of the most pressing needs we can look at what else they need help with, so they are not living on the edge every minute.”

Hiring from within strengthens ties, and builds continuity, Pulatie said, if the right combination of expertise and background can be found. The department currently employs 87 staffers, and adheres to the guidelines of the County’s Citizen Driven Strategic Business Plan.

According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services portion of the plan, the department’s purpose is to provide health, safety prevention and support services to Montrose communities so that they can experience improved wellness, enhanced independence and a better quality of life and environment. Partnering with organizations to further those goals remains a key strategy.

“We want to be on the same page with our community partners, so we do spend time meeting and interacting with other organizations,” Pulatie said.

In a rural community with limited resources, “we need to make sure we are serving needs without redundancy of services,” Shearer said, “and we need to make sure we are serving the whole community.”

Montrose’s economy tends to lag behind the Front Range, Shearer said, so when one thing goes wrong it can create a domino effect.

“A lost job, a medical emergency, a child needing care–these things point to a need for services that are not fragmented,” Pulatie said, “it is important for us to stay united even with two directors–we can’t put people’s lives in boxes.”

And though the County does not run the State’s health care exchange, clients who need affordable health care must first come through Health and Human Services to apply–and be denied–for Medicaid.

“People can be frustrated by the complex regulations that impact their lives,” Pulatie said. “But we can help them get through it.”

Some recent program successes include the well-attended vaccination clinics (in which the county has partnered with Walgreens and is working with Montrose Memorial Hospital) and Empowering Dads classes, notes Montrose County Media and Public Relations Manger Katie Yergensen.

“Eighty-six percent of the dads who enrolled in the job class have ended up with viable employment,” Yergensen said. “We are really trying to do the best we can for our community.

“When it comes to community health and wellness, everybody’s well-being is our goal,” Yergensen said.

Innovation is also part of the long-term strategy, Pulatie noted.

“We are not about change for the sake of change,” she said. “We put a lot of thought into where we are going, and we try to look up from day-to-day needs to see where we want to be in five years, and where we need to focus. The goal is to look at our country and our government resources as a safety net, but I also want to out there on the trapeze, looking at things and taking changes.

“There is a broader part we can play.”