Report: Pandemic is still affecting county residents

County residents needed food and medical assistance in higher numbers in 2021 as the effects of the pandemic lingered, according to data from the county’s Human Services department.

Referrals to the county for children who might need protection also climbed in 2021 from 2020, likely due in part to children returning to school where they can be assessed by staff, Human Services Director Deb Suchla told the county board Monday evening during a summary of the department’s annual report.

The department’s data show that 23.5 percent of the county’s residents received medical benefits in 2021, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. Suchla said individuals who qualified under the pandemic may lose their coverage once the public health emergency ends.

Suchla also said the pandemic was likely behind a 274 percent increase in county residents seeking help getting food from 2020 to 2021. An average 2,798 county residents received food benefits in 2021.

Referrals to the department to investigate possible child neglect jumped to 503 last year from 413 in 2020, the reports says.

The department’s report said the biggest challenge during the public health difficulties in 2020 and 2021 was individuals being cut off from support. The cost for residential treatment for mental health, for instance, climbed to $314,358 in 2021 compared to just $85,321 in 2019. 

The number of specific cases for behavioral health support held steady from 2020 to 2021, the report shows. Instances where individuals are placed in care involuntarily because they are a danger to themselves or others decline to 61 in 2021 from 67 in 2020. 

The board approved a master plan for Pietrek Park that will make the county recreation area eligible for grants. Parks director Reed Lally said planning will include the six acres donated by nearby property owners who stipulated the gift is contingent on a plan for use of the property.

In other action, supervisors:

• Reappointed Terrance Koxlien to the board of adjustment and Randy Severson as an alternate to the board, and appointed Supervisor Kellen Nelson to the Land Information Council. Beth Killian was named to the Aging Disability Resource Center Advisory Council.

• Heard that the committee charged with establishing internal county policy for the pandemic has suspended meeting until perhaps fall.

• Adopted revisions to a 2003 county policy against harassment or intimidation of county employee.

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