Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday signed off on two agreements to increase the services provided to victims of sexual assault, including on-call nurses and a competitive stipend for volunteers at the YWCA.
Commissioners also created a new title for the director of Relationship Violence Services, recognizing Shantelle Gaynor as a department head, though that decision wasn’t unanimous.
“I see it as a non-solution to a non-problem,” Commissioner Cola Rowley said of the title change. “The request is a symptom of poor organizational structure. I’m not one to slap an ill-fitting band-aid on what’s a systemic issue.”
The rare disagreement between commissioners fell on whether to name Gaynor as a department head. Relationship Violence Services is housed in the Division of Grants and Community Programs, which lost its status as a department last year.
Relationship Violence Services comprises roughly one-third of the grants division.
“Now we’re saying one-third of what shouldn’t be a department should be a department,” Rowley said. “We took one step forward with the dissolution of the grants department and now we’re taking three steps back. I disagree very strongly with this request.”
While Commissioner Dave Strohmaier approved the title change, he didn’t wholly disagree with Rowley’s take on the issue. While Gaynor is fulfilling the duties of other department heads, Strohmaier said, it was time for the county to reexamine its structure.
“I agree that this does beg the question of whether, through the strategic planning process or otherwise, we take a hard look at our overall county organizational structure for chief officers, department heads, and what constitutes a department,” Strohmaier said. “Clearly, all departments are not created equal on any number of different levels. Regardless of today’s action, I think that discussion needs to happen.”
Commissioners did find unanimous agreement Tuesday in approving two service contracts using a federal grant awarded by the Office of Violence Against Women.
Included in the grant, $49,920 will go to fulfill an agreement with St. Patrick Hospital and its First Step Resource Center to place sexual assault nurse examiners on call 24 hours a day.
“First Step has a challenge,” said Jenny Daniel with the county’s grants division “They can pay their SANE nurses during the day, but they have a really challenging time offering their call time. When we asked them what they wanted, they asked for help with their call time to allow the nurses to be able to respond 24 hours a day.”
Daniel said 24-hour access will support the larger system, including law enforcement and other responders needing to take a victim of sexual assault to First Step for examination at any hour of the day.
The second $49,383 grant will complete an agreement with the YWCA to increase the stipend it offers to sexual assault response advocates who work with victims. Daniel said the YWCA was unable to compete with the Student Advocacy Resource Center at the University of Montana, which offers its volunteers higher compensation for their time.
“The YWCA’s (pay) was low and they were having a challenging time getting people to volunteer, so we supplemented their stipend for their volunteers,” said Daniel. “They wanted to get a higher quality of volunteers, and this also increases their clinical supervisor’s hours.”