The Aitkin County Board of Commissioners took a step toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails by passing a resolution of the Health and Human Services Board during its regular meeting April 23. The resolution affirmed the county’s continued support of Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative’s comprehensive re-entry program.

Reduced state and federal funding for serious mental illness in the community have resulted in increased rates of serious mental illness in child protection cases and in incarcerations in the county jail at rates three to six times higher than the general population.

The regional comprehensive re-entry program is a partnership of key stakeholders with a goal to safely reduce the number of adults with mental illnesses in jails by connecting them to community-based treatment and services. Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative is made up of six participating counties including Aitkin, and works to protect and enhance the health, welfare and safety of its residents in efficient and cost-effective ways.  

“This resolution gives the initiative the authority to seek additional funding through the National Joint Powers Alliance to begin regional efforts,” Cynthia Bennet, HHS director said. “It’s a good thing for our community and we have been doing some of this already.”

The county will also be taking measures to better identify adults entering jails with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk, determine which programs and services are available in the county for those with mental illnesses and co-occuring substance use disorders, and identify barriers in funding and local policy.


As state legislation wraps up its session, it reconvened after a two-week break and has until May 20 to finalize bills. Bennett was disappointed that the Health Care Access Fund (a 2% provider tax which generated $700 million for programs) was not extended.

These funds originally supported the MinnesotaCare program, and rolled into State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), providing funding and grants for rural hospitals to improve access and services.

“When there were excess dollars, it was rolled into other health care related access to services. This improves the health of population, which reduces other costs,” Bennett said.

Aitkin County Health and Human Services briefs

• School Bus Drivers’ Day was observed on April 23. Resident school bus driver Shawn Speed was honored for his services.

• The board approved an agreement for the transportation of children and youth in foster care placement. Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015 requires counties and schools to work together to ensure that children in foster care can remain in the same school they attended prior to placement unless it is determined that it is not in the child’s best interest. Transportation costs will be split equally by McGregor School District and the county. HHS can receive some reimbursement for money spent on transportation costs.

• Adult Social Services Supervisor Kim Larson gave an update on the Club House drop-in center for those with chemical dependency or mental health issues. The program is modeled after the Kiesler House in Grand Rapids. The previously considered location of Aitkin County Growth’s log building was too costly, and the Adult Mental Health Initiative is working on developing a different site. A temporary location being considered for services is Aitkin Methodist Church.

• The Adult Mental Health Initiative recently purchased 22 Vitals Apps for local law enforcement. Vitals App is a new technology that provides first responders with information about vulnerable individuals living with emotional, intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Sheriff’s Office, and Aitkin and Hill City police departments will also be implementing Vitals App in the future.

• The annual mental health event will be held on May 14 from 5-7 p.m. at MaryHill Manor. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s event theme has a  focus on self care.

• Financial Supervisor Carli Goble said out-of-home placement costs for 2018 were about 50% lower than 2017. The first quarter budget for 2019 is on target.

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