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Dalton leaves behind a legacy in health care

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DPHHS Medicaid Director Mary Dalton leaves behind a legacy in healthcare


By Sheila Hogan, Director

Department of Public Health and Human Services


For every new staff hire at the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), there are key departures. In particular, DPHHS is celebrating the amazing career of an individual who leaves behind a legacy of public service to the State of Montana.


After 30 years, DPHHS Branch Manager and State Medicaid Director Mary Dalton is retiring.


At this time, we pause to honor Mary’s tremendous and influential role to improve healthcare access for Montana residents. Simultaneously, we are saddened to lose such an amazing leader and true champion for thousands of people this agency serves.


In her career, Mary has played a major role in establishing Medicaid health policy for the state. Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that pays for a broad range of medically necessary health care services for low income fellow Montanans.


Mary’s work to improve healthcare policy is widely known and respected in many national and statewide circles. Those unfamiliar with her name no doubt are keenly aware of the programs she has worked so hard to create, implement and improve.


The programs include the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Healthy Montana Kids, and the HELP Plan (Medicaid expansion). And, she has recently been working on an historic program available to Montana’s tribal communities that focuses on tribal-led health promotion disease prevention as DPHHS works government-to-government with Montana’s tribes to address the unacceptable health disparity among Native Americans. These programs collectively help improve the health of thousands of Montana children, adults, seniors and individuals with disabilities.


These types of Medicaid-funding programs undergo various levels of approval and review before and after they arrive at DPHHS to administer. This process takes a leader with a unique set of talents to tackle this important work. It takes someone who understands how health policy impacts the lives of Montanans.


It takes someone like Mary.


Over the years, there are many who have worked diligently on health policy at DPHHS. But, through her many key positions within this agency, she has been one of the most influential voices. She is an amazing, thoughtful and innovative thinker and an excellent communicator of complex topics. She has also used those skills while overseeing and improving programs that serve adults and children with developmental disabilities.


While tackling major health policy work and program oversight is where her career ends, it’s not where it started. She began her work as a registered nurse, which engrained in her the “concept of health care and the importance of it.”


In her career, Mary has logged thousands of miles and spent countless hours traveling all over the state, including regular visits to all seven Indian Reservations in Montana. During these visits, she has worked tirelessly to communicate both new information regarding DPHHS healthcare programs, or to listen intently to suggestions about how to improve them. She has collaborated with providers.


And, to think Montana was close to losing Mary to an East coast state.


Early in her career, Mary was looking for a new challenge, and had considered applying for a Medicaid director position outside Montana. Naturally, she discussed this possibility with her family. Mary states: “My 11-year-old son simply said, ‘that’s fine mom (if you go), but you’ll have to send your check home to Montana.’”


Needless to say, the 11-year-old won out. The story brings a smile to Mary’s face. DPHHS is thankful the Daltons stayed, and Montana has certainly benefited.


Mary leaves behind a legacy that will impact generations to come. Not too shabby for the Sheridan, Mont. gal who grew up to be a nurse, and used those people-first skills so inherent in the nursing profession to have such a lasting impact.


Sheila Hogan is the Department of Public Health and Human Services Director.