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2019 Public Health and Human Services Department Year in Review

Jan 17, 2020 08:40AM ● By Editor

COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS - From Cook County MN - January 17, 2020

By: Alison McIntyre, Cook County Public Health and Human Services Director

The Cook County Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) is made up of 27 staff  who deliver and connect residents to supportive services including economic assistance and health care programs, community health promotion and social services programs. The PHHS department mission statement, which was developed by departent staff in 2013 is, “supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.”


2019 was another year of transition in the Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) Department, we welcomed new staff, began providing new services and expanded our work in community engagement. The following are a few highlights from the past year.

Staff and Program Changes

While much of our work is governed by federal, state and local policy and program mandates, our staff, contracted service providers and other partnerships with community providers and organizations are the most important part of our work in supporting healthy people and healthy communities.

The PHHS department welcomed five new staff in 2019, four of whom were hired to fill vacancies due to resignations.

The department added one new position in 2019 by reallocating funds that were previously contracted to the Human Development Center (HDC). When HDC closed their Grand Marais office in late 2018, this left a significant gap in community-based mental health services. In June, PHHS hired a community support worker within the social services team to bridge that gap.

In 2019, the PHHS department received temporary case management support during staff transitions and brought on a public health intern over the summer months. 

PHHS employees are commited to continuing education with three staff pursuing degrees while working full-time during 2019. Two staff also completed certification in Understanding ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences): Building Self-Healing Communities cohort to become presenters in the ACE Interface.

The Individuals and Families We Serve

Anyone can encounter problems such as job loss, legal issues or unexpected expenses, and not everyone is in the same position to weather these life storms. Some families don’t have access to the materials it takes to build wellbeing like access to medical care or are locked into low wage jobs; others have a history of trauma, abuse or neglect which can weaken their health.  The PHHS department works to connect residents, across the lifespan and spectrum of need, to programs and resources that help build health, safety and wellbeing.

In 2019, the Adult and Home & Community Based Services unit which includes general adult services, adult protection and developmental disability and waiver case management provided support to 273 county residents and residents who live in facilities outside the community who require a higher-level of care than is available locally.

The Children and Family Services unit which includes adult and children’s mental health case management, child welfare, chemical dependency case management and licensing, supported 284 individuals and families in 2019.

The Economic Assistance unit which includes Minnesota Health Care Programs, and nutrition and cash assistance programs worked with approximately 154 households receiving cash and/or nutrition assistance and 539 households enrolled in Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare or a Medicare savings program in 2019.

In 2019, 53 people in Cook County were assessed by Greg Barnier, the county-contracted Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor, for substance use disorder. An average of 12 people participated in the Wilderness Outpatient Treatment Program, a licensed affiliate of the PHHS department, within a given month.

Community Engagement and Health Improvement

The work of building community health and wellbeing is a team effort that involves individuals and families and a team of professionals and people with different specialties.

The Community Health Assessment (CHA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is a long-term effort that brings together public health and partnering agencies and individuals who are dedicated to understanding and improving health and wellbeing in Cook County. In 2019, a group of PHHS staff, community providers and other stakeholders prioritized a set of shared community health goals to work toward in our 2017-2022 CHIP.  The PHHS department facilitated this process with the vision of fostering continued collaboration and creating a means by which to focus our collective efforts on creating a more vibrant, healthy community.

In 2019, the PHHS department formed a local advisory council for children's and adult mental health. Previously under the umbrella of our existing PHHS advisory committee, a standalone council was established in August due, in part, to the increased service needs following the closure of Cook County's only community mental health clinic in 2018. The 16-member council supports the PHHS department by gathering information about mental health services and making recommendations to the department and PHHS board regarding unmet needs in the community. The council includes community members, retired mental health professionals, people who have received mental health services and family members of persons with mental illness.

With support from the American Lung Association and Public Health Law Center, the PHHS Advisory Committee and PHHS department provided recommendations to the Cook County board of commissioners to revise the Cook County tobacco ordinance to increase the age to purchase commercial tobacco to 21. Department staff partnered with the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and ISD 166 to bring education into the school and to the community, presenting information on the increase in local youth commercial tobacco use with the rise in popularity of vaping. Considering the public health implications when addictive pathways are formed in the brain at an early age, the Cook County board approved the ordinance change at their November 26th, 2019 meeting.

Learn more about the PHHS 2019 year in review at the January 21 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook County commissioners room. You can also visit our website at, contact us via email at [email protected] or follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS to learn more about our work in supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of Cook County. 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

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