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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Public Health and Human Services Depart Year in Review

COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Public Health and Human Services Depart Year in Review

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

COOK COUNTRY, MINNESOTA January 6, 2021  (LSN)  The Cook County Public Health and Human Services department contains a team of 32 staff (including three temporary employees) who provide mandated and preventative services to county residents. The department also provides coordination and oversight of contracted service providers in the areas of child support, chemical health and outpatient substance use disorder treatment, in-home support services and several public health programs and services. Our mission is “supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.”

2020 was filled with unique challenges in our direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Service delivery was adapted within State and Federal guidelines in order to maintain continuity and protect the health and safety of our staff and the people we serve. Staff and contracted service providers quickly pivoted to remote work, when possible, and modified our procedures to conitinue to provide critical services to the community.

Staff and Program Changes

The PHHS department welcomed two new employees in 2020. Kristin DeArruda Wharton was hired in June as a Public Health Educator. After Kristin took another position in December, Jodi Tervo Roberts was hired to fill this permanent position ongoing.

The department also grew to include four, part-time, temporary public health employees to aid in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, Andrea Tofte, Maggie Farchmin, Jodi Tervo Roberts and Sadie Sigford were hired with the support of CARES Act funds and continue to provide critical support to our department’s planning and response efforts; including case investigation and contact tracing, health education, technical assistance and support to local schools and businesses, and planning and coordination of mass vaccination events.

In addition to temporary staff, local volunters through MNResponds supported the department’s response to COVID-19 in Cook County, with volunteers contributing 5,831 total hours of time in 2020. Through initiatives with local grocery stores and food distribution events through AEOA and Ruby’s Pantry, volunteers ensured that residents had access to food during the stay at home order and while residents experience increased hunger due to the pandemic. Local volunteers, through MNResponds, have also provided support through the Community Support Line since May, contributing 1,356 volunteer hours in 2020.  Four former public health and health care professionals joined the public health team in late 2020 as volunteers to support our response through case investigation and contact tracing by interviewing residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts.

In 2020, public health staff from Grand Portage Health Services were instrumental in maintaining coverage for case investigation and contact tracing throughout the county in collaboration with PHHS staff and volunteers. The PHHS department also benefitted from the ongoing collaborative work with public health staff at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic through outreach and in connecting contacts of positive COVID-19 cases to testing and isolation/quarantine support services.

In 2020, the PHHS department also received support from former social worker, Linda Waterhouse during human services staff family/medical leaves.

PHHS staff navigated and responded to numerous program modifications and waivers put into place by the state as a result of the peacetime emergency declared by the governor in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff revised and developed new protocols for PHHS services and licensed programs; including the Wilderness Outpatient Treatment Program and In-Home Support program to maintain services to vulnerable community members during the pandemic.

Community Engagement

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 2020.

At their January 2020 meeting, members of the PHHS Advisory Council voted to draft a letter of resolution to the County Board of Commissioners to give written consent to the federal government for refugee resettlement. The Council also advocated in July for a uniform policy to mandate the use of protective face coverings for people without a medical exemption to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Cook County. In October, members of the Public Health and Human Services Advisory Council recommended granting funds in the amount of $135,000 to six organizations that serve a public health purpose in the community for budget year 2021.

The Cook County Local Mental Health Advisory Council began the year with a presentation from members and staff on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the impact of traumatic experiences and historical trauma on health and wellbeing. The council focused on outreach throughout the year on WTIP community radio. Members participated in a panel discussion in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, “Mindfulness Monday” messages and recorded public service announcements to promote the council and offer messages of hope and support. Several council members also registered as volunteers to join the behavioral health response through the Community Support Line.

Both the PHHS Advisory and Local Mental Health Advisory Councils are looking for new members to join in 2021. Meetings are open to the public and more information can be found on the Cook County website.

The Year Ahead

In early 2021, the PHHS department will welcome a new employee, Tony Booth, as a social worker providing substance use disorder and licensing case management. The department will also pursue certification to provide and bill for daytime crisis response services.

Staff continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with efforts underway to conduct outreach and planning for the mass vaccination of county residents. Throughout the department, staff will continue to respond to and manage operations and changes during the public health emergency to balance health and safety and our mandates and mission as a department.

Learn more about the PHHS department at the January 19 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. The meeting is available to stream live on the Cook County website at You can also visit our website at, contact us via email at 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 hub site at

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

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

#LSN_News #LSN_MNNews #LSN_CookCounty 

A big Thank You to all our supporters across the northshore of Lake Superior into Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan  


About Cook County Minnesota

Cook County Coronavirus Response Hub

Cook Country Minnesota   Lake Superior News

Cook County is at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region in the remote northeastern part of the state, stretching from the shores of Lake Superior to the US-Canada border. By land it borders Ontario, Canada to the north, and Lake County, MN to the west.  The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain is 2,301 feet and the highest lake,  Total Area equals 3,339.72 sq miles

Cook County is home to three national protected areas:
Grand Portage National Monument
Superior National Forest
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Cook County include:
 Grand Marais     Lutsen Mountains
 Gunflint Trail      Superior Hiking Trail
 Grand Portage 

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