Bob Marcum will retire after serving three two-year terms on the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee.

There have been many changes to mental health services over the years, said Adult Social Services Supervisor Kim Larson during a presentation at the Aitkin County board of commissioners meeting on Aug. 28.

In 1950, there were 337 state hospital beds per 100,000 people; currently nationwide there are 11.7 beds per 100,000. Minnesota ranks 50 out of all states on having the fewest number of 3.5 beds per 100,000. The recommendation by Health Policy experts is 40-60 mental health beds for every 100,000.

The result is increased wait times for beds, longer time spent in jails and hospitals, and people placed in inappropriate settings, increased costs to counties and states, and increased lawsuits against states. The limited psychiatric providers, housing, transportation and placement options pose as a challenge to providing care to individuals in need. Increased chemical use problems have also impacted mental health needs.

Aitkin County HHS is part of Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative (AMHI). To learn more, visit

There is a $28.1 million bond to develop a regional behavioral health crisis center, Larson said. “We are in the beginning phases of exploring if our regional partners would have an interest in pursuing to develop behavioral crisis centers,” Larson added.

In addition, plans are underway for long-term mental housing, which will break ground in Baxter next May.

“There are things happening,” Larson said. “It is probably not moving as fast as everyone would like it but we are doing our best.”

Case managers

The work done by case managers is meaningful and builds an environment of trust with clients, Larson said. In one instance, an individual with chronic mental health and chemical dependency issues reached out to his county contact for assistance after relapsing.  

Other success stories have included assisting a long-term homeless person into permanent housing, and connecting another client with available services to enable him to remain in his home.

Larson introduced Adult Mental Health Case Managers Nick A., Reina I. and Rebecca P. (Full names are not used as to protect the safety of staff.)

“In my opinion they work the most challenging cases,” Larson said.

Case managers provide services by helping their clients coordinate an individual community support plan, review it and monitor progress. The plan involves input from the adult with serious and persistent mental illness, the adult’s family, physician, mental health providers, and other service providers.

Once a case is received by Aitkin County Health and Human Services (HHS), a diagnostic assessment is required to determine Serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) status. Overall, the goal is to support individuals in obtaining stability with mental health by accessing community resources and services.

For adults in a residential treatment facility, regional treatment center, correctional facility, other residential placement, or an inpatient acute psychiatric case unit, case managers assist with discharge planning, and help coordinate services necessary for a smooth transition to the community.

Individuals must meet certain criteria to receive services. This can include a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression or borderline personality disorder; evidences a significant impairment in functioning, along with a written opinion from a mental health professional recommending community support program services.

HHS partners with other organizations within the community such as Riverwood Healthcare Center, Northern Pines Mental Health Center, Northland Counseling, law enforcement, Lakes and Pines, and more.

The county also recently hired a transitional specialist through Sourcewell (formerly Joint Powers Agreement) to act as a resource in the case a resident were discharged from a state facility.

Health and Human Services briefs

• Aitkin County Health and Human Services Director Cynthia Bennett plans to attend the AMC Conference on Sept. 13-14. Bennett will be representing the county on the HHS committee to help identify its priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

• Shawn Speed, Emergency Preparedness Logistics Chief, and Stacy Durgin, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, were approved to attend a three-day Public Health Emergency Preparedness seminar. All costs, with exception of staff time, will be covered by a grant. The seminar is for management level responders to train for situations involving chemical and biological hazards, explosives and more.

• Steven Teff, of Jacobson, joined the HHS advisory committee representing District 5.

• After serving three two-year terms, Bob Marcum announced it would be his last time addressing the board as a HHS advisory board member. He spoke of the importance of ANGELS in McGregor, and asked the county to continue to work with the organization on funding.

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