Find Personal Health Care in Great Falls, MT
Region offers expanded services along with creative partnerships that aim to strengthen the local health care workforce.
Health care in Great Falls is poised for a major boost through strategic collaborations that are building a strong workforce for the community’s current and future needs.
Medical providers in Great Falls are also delivering vital care that meets people’s individual needs, whether it’s a place to stay, recognition of tribal health needs, or a special place for women’s care.
Benefis Health System, the region’s largest health care provider, is supporting both Montana State University and Touro University to help ensure a ready supply of nurses and physicians for the area. Benefis donated land to help create a Great Falls campus for MSU’s Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing, and also is helping with the development of the new Touro University Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine set to open in 2023.
“Supporting economic development and growth in our community goes hand in hand with advancing the future of health care,” says Kaci Husted, vice president of communications and business development at Benefis. “If we can get students to stay or come to North Central Montana, we dramatically increase the odds they will stay in the region for their careers.”
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Creating a Pipeline
The Touro University Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine will admit 125 students to its inaugural class in 2023. Dr. Elizabeth Palmarozzi, Touro’s founding dean and professor of family medicine, credits Benefis and its CEO, John Goodnow, for the commitment to bring a medical school to Great Falls.
“Our mission is to train osteopathic physicians with an emphasis on practicing medicine in underserved communities and increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine,” Palmarozzi says. The college will develop pipeline programs locally and in Native American schools and colleges throughout the state, helping to make a difference for underserved tribal communities and patients.
Putting Down Roots
MSU’s nursing college is already the largest producer of registered nurses in Montana, and the sole provider of doctoral nurse practitioner education in the state.
Michael Becker, MSU spokesperson, says the new construction in Great Falls will mark the first time the nursing college’s students will operate out of their own dedicated facility.
Like the rest of the nation, Montana is facing a nursing shortage, and current space constraints mean MSU is at capacity for the number of nurses it can prepare.
“Our new building and dedicated space in Great Falls, made possible by the Jones’ support and the partnership with Benefis, will allow MSU to increase its enrollment by about 60%,” Becker says.
Rayn Ginnaty, Benefis chief nursing officer and hospital chief operating officer, says nursing education in Great Falls means students are in local clinical settings and rural communities.
“They broaden their exposure to real-world nursing, and some will discover their passion for rural or tribal medical care. They will put down roots here and carry us forward into the future,” Ginnaty says.
“Up to 80% of these nurses will remain in Montana, carrying what they learn to where care is needed, especially the remote and rural communities.”
Michael Becker, Montana State University
Serving the Community
One place these new nurses and physicians will use their skills is Alluvion Health, a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center that provides high-quality, cost-effective primary and preventive care, particularly for the community’s underserved populations.
With the help of funding from the Great Falls Development Authority, Alluvion is revitalizing the Rocky Mountain Building downtown to become the main hub for all of its services.
Trista Besich, Alluvion’s CEO, says the expansion and growth of services creates the opportunity for new internships, training and career development opportunities for individuals pursuing health care or related fields.
“Having all our top-quality medical, dental, behavioral health and other services under one roof will create the best possible patient experience in a state-of-the-art facility.”
Trista Besich, Alluvion’s CEO
Underscoring the impact of all these programs, Dr. Paul Dolan, Benefis chief medical information officer, says he thinks about Khi Kuka Soldano, a family nurse practitioner at Benefis who battled racism, weathered tragedy and overcame other hardships as she pursued a medical education far from her home and the Blackfeet Nation.
“Khi also has inspired others, among them her sister, to pursue a medical education,” Dolan says. “Now, imagine a hundred people like Khi as health care providers. What a profound difference they would make as doctors, nurses and role models in our tribal and rural communities.”
New Women’s and Children’s Center
Benefis Health System has expanded its offerings in a striking new facility that gathers all its services for women and children in a building designed for them.
The Benefis Women’s and Children’s Center includes 48,000 square feet of space, housing OB-GYN, general pediatrics, pediatric endocrinology, pediatric behavioral health, pediatric therapies, laboratory and imaging.
“Women are the health care drivers in their families, but in the past, we may not have really designed space for their care,” says Kaci Husted, Benefis vice president of communications and business development. “This new facility will truly transform the way women and children access care in this community.”
The new building has been designed to be a comfortable, welcoming place for patients that makes life easier by eliminating the stress of running from place to place for various appointments.
“This will be an entirely different experience,” Husted says. “It’s a more convenient, nicer space designed for them, instead of fitting them into a space not right for them. It will make women feel like the center of our health care system, which they really are.”
The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has designing health care that fills the needs of Native Americans in the state, many of whom have had difficult access to health care. The new Little Shell Tribal Health Clinic was built in the former Best Friends Animal Hospital building.
This creative reuse of the building provides exam rooms, spaces for consultation and conversation, behavioral health rooms, labs, a drive-thru pharmacy, and radiology. Also, a Smudge Room (for traditional Native American spiritual purification) is available for family gatherings and prayer.
The clinic is organized around the Nuka system, developed by Alaskan Native Americans, a relationship-based, customer-owned approach to health care. “It’s about how you help people be well,” Wendland says. “We want to help people own their own health.”
In addition to treatment facilities, outpatient housing has recently been top of mind in the region. An initiative of the Great Falls Clinic Legacy Foundation, the new Harold & Carmen Poulsen Housing project provides a safe, free haven for clinic outpatients to stay when they are in town for treatment.
– Writer Laura Hill contributed to this article.
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