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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: 2021 Public Health and Human Services Department Year in Review

Jan 14, 2022 11:08AM ● By Editor

Alison McIntyre. Submitted photo


By Alison McIntyre, Cook County Public Health and Human Services Director from Cook County MN - January 14, 2022 


The Cook County Public Health and Human Services department contains a team of 30 staff who provide an array of mandated and supportive services to county residents. In addition to our staff, the PHHS department contracts with local and regional service providers in the areas of child support, substance use disorder assessment and treatment, in-home support services, and  variety of public health programs. Our department mission is “supporting the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community”

2021 was another year filled with change and uncertainty for the department as we navigated and responded to the ongonig COVID-19 pandemic and the cascading impacts on the people and communities we serve.

Staff and Program Updates

In 2021, seven staff positions turned over due to resignation or retirement. We welcomed five new staff in 2021 to backfill these positions and in newly created positions to respond to emerging and ongoing needs in the community.  New positions in 2021 included the addition of a second Public Health Educator and a second Children’s Mental Health Case Manager to add critical staff capacity. The expansion of behavioral health services within the PHHS department included the addition of dedicated case management staff to support people experiencing co-occurring mental heath and substance use disorders. 

The PHHS department also received support in 2021 from part time, temporary staff who were brought on board to assist with pandemic response work and a Master of Social Work student intern who helped research health care transportation service gaps.

Within the economic assistance and health care area, many of the program waivers that were put in place by the State during the early days of the pandemic were lifted. Staff connected more residents with nutrion and cash assistance programs to meet their basic needs with the introduction of the MNBenefits online application platform.

Pandemic Response

Direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic dominated our work in the public health team in 2021. As we entered the new year in 2021, vaccine eligibility was limited to a select group of first responders and other health care workers. By year-end, over 4,000 residents, 80% of the county population, were vaccinated against COVID-19 thanks to the collaborative work of the public health and local health care providers at Grand Portage Health Services and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. 

In addition to coordination and planning of vaccine events, public health staff continued to provide high-quality case investigation and contact tracing services, technical assistance and safety planning for schools and businesses, and community health education and outreach.

Engagement and Collaboration

The PHHS Advisory Council and Cook County Local Mental Health Advisory Council were active in making policy, service and funding recommendations, conducting outreach, and fostering connections across area service organizations in 2021. Both advisory councils welcomed new members in 2021 thanks to continued outreach and recruitment of community members and service providers.

Throughout 2021, the Local Mental Health Advisory Council worked to develop a mission and vision statement to guide our work. The adopted mission of the Cook County Local Mental Health Advisory Council is to remove barriers and increase access to mental health resources for all community members. Council members strive to enhance the work of the Public Health and Human Services Department, advise the Cook County Commissioners, and improve the mental health system and services for the community. Our vision is that the Cook County Local Mental Health Advisory Council envisions communities, including the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Cook County, where mental health is understood, valued, and supported.

In 2021, the Public Health and Human Services Advisory Council continued to provide a forum for local health and human services providers and community members to discuss response to the ongoing public health emergency and initiatives to further the goals of the 2017-2022 Cook County community health improvement plan. Members of the Advisory Council served on a subcommittee to provide funding recommendations for community non-profits who applied for the 2022 public health fund. The total grant requests were approximately $225,000, far exceeded the $137,700 budgeted to grant out in 2022. The subcommittee offered recommendations to the PHHS department and PHHS Board to adjust the timeframe for the request for proposals to better advocate for funding based on the level of community need.

Learn more about the PHHS department at the January 18 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook County Commissioners Room. The meeting is available to stream live on the Cook County website at www.co.cook.mn.us. You can also visit our website at www.cookcountyphhs.org, contact us via email at [email protected] or find us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS  or Instagram @cook_county_phhs to learn more about our work in supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of Cook County. For the latest information on COVID-19 in Cook County, visit the comprehensive COVID-19 response hub site at www.cookcountycovid19.org

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