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Celebrating 50 years, and what the decades have meant to mental health care in Minnesota

Imagine it’s 1969. Iconic, watershed moments are happening near and far. For me, a 14-year-old growing up in South Dakota, 1969 is the year my brother comes home from Vietnam, I attend basketball camp in Nebraska, we all watch the moon landing and man’s first steps on the moon, and Woodstock comes together.

As 2019 continues to fly by, it’s been meaningful to reflect, remember and celebrate the 50th anniversaries of these iconic moments in our history.

Ken Duncan
Ken Duncan
There’s another reason 1969 has been on my mind lately. We remember the big moments – the world-changing, large-scale events that captivated individuals around the world. Of course, what isn’t as easy to recognize and celebrate are the small moments, the gradual changes that happen over years and decades, by everyday people. Take the moment in 1969 when the Rev. Harry Maghakian, a St. Paul minister, began welcoming a group of war veterans, who were homeless and masking symptoms of mental illness with alcohol or drugs, to the church for coffee and snacks. This effort grew into People Incorporated Mental Health Services. Fifty years later, I have the pleasure of serving as People Incorporated’s board chair and the humbling task of helping the organization and greater community reflect on the past five decades, celebrate our collective accomplishments, and prepare to push ourselves further in the next 50 years.

It’s true that mental health care has come a long way in the past 50 years. In fact, it was just over 50 years ago, in 1963, when Congress passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act, which called for the deinstitutionalization of those with mental illness and increased community services. However, many argue that while this act passed, it was not fully or well implemented. The idea was there; the follow through – and funding – was not.

A ‘safety net’ provider

It’s no surprise that organizations like People Incorporated have emerged as key, fundamental drivers in the complex interplay between the mental health system, the health care system as a whole, and the health of our communities. Since its start, People Incorporated has served as a “safety net” mental health care provider for individuals who have very few – if any – options. Today, People Incorporated is the Twin Cities’ largest community-based provider of mental health services.

For People Incorporated and other nonprofit organizations in the mental health space, we’re at an interesting crossroads. Each year brings more awareness of mental illness and more information on integrated approaches to treating and supporting the whole person. As an industry, we’re stretching as far as we can to connect the dots between mental health, physical health and community health – no easy task in systems that have traditionally been fragmented and operating in silos, especially when we’re all trying to do more with less – all against a backdrop of a constantly changing health care system and inconsistent support and funding.

For example, we were one of six providers in Minnesota selected as a pilot site for a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative called the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC), which launched in July 2017. CCBHC is focused on improving behavioral health integration and linking payment models with patient outcomes – designed to bring together behavioral, chemical and physical health care for people with mental and substance use disorders, rather than the traditional model of needing to contact several different agencies for different services. A recent survey of clients participating in the CCBHC showed:

  • 82 percent of participants agreed that their condition has improved
  • a 28 percent decrease in those with severe depression from initial to last screening
  • a 20 percent decrease in those with moderate depression from initial to last screening
  • Estimated hospitalization costs saved $976,832, indicating a more efficient and effective delivery of services

Results like these don’t come easy for many clients who may have been stuck in a gap-filled system unsuited to their individual needs. As leaders, we recognize the hard work of these individuals, their families and the staff on the ground who are putting in the hours to best serve those who need our help the most, and who are doing so in innovative, caring ways.

I’m excited about the journey ahead and the opportunity to continue developing a collaborative approach that will continue to integrate mental health care. We can continue to improve, working together, helping and supporting each other as we strengthen our communities by serving those among us who are managing their challenges alone. It is OK to ask for help.

Anniversary celebration

We’re thinking big about mental health care in Minnesota and beyond – and that’s cause for celebration. If you’re in the mood to celebrate and support one of Minnesota’s most impactful mental health organizations, please join us at People Incorporated’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 4, along with KARE 11’s Sven Sundgaard; Zak Williams, mental health advocate and son of the late actor Robin Williams; Kevin Hines, a Golden Gate Bridge suicide attempt survivor and mental health advocate; and Morris Day and The Time, a world-renowned soul, rock and roll, and funk band who worked closely with Prince for many years. As we reflect on 1969’s significant cultural events and memories, let’s also reflect and celebrate our progress in the field of mental health, and continue charting the future together.

Ken Duncan joined People Incorporated’s board of directors in 2013 and has served as board chair since 2015. He was recently recognized as the Board Member of the Year by Nonprofit PRO, a leading national publication in the nonprofit space. For more information on People Incorporated and its 50th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 4, including registration and sponsorship opportunities, visit


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/03/2019 - 10:38 am.

    This is a marketing campaign masquerading as community news. The claim that People Inc. is major provider of Mental Health services in the Twin Cities is not credible. If the author was serious about this claim he’d provide a number, how many clients did they actually serve?

    82%, 28%, 21%… of What? How many? For how long?

    Mental illness tends to be a pernicious and chronic condition. Marketers can skew their treatment outcomes by confining their surveys to optimal time periods. Whenever you see results tied to “last screening” you need to know when the “last” screening was conducted. There’s a big difference between “screening” 2 or 3 weeks after leaving a program compared to 2 or 3 months or years. This is market research, not clinical research, it doesn’t actually measure clinical outcomes, it looks at customer satisfaction within a finite time period.

    I’m not saying the program is garbage but let’s not celebrate the end of mental illness here. And the idea of community based approaches and integrated health care has been around for decades… these guys didn’t invent it, and they’re not the first or the only ones to try to implement it, it’s been a standard feature of treatment models since the mid 90’s. The model is more or less successful and/or applicable depending on the clinical population you’re working with. I notice the author doesn’t even try to describe the client population they serve, or the portal that brings them in.

    Finally, that estimate of cost savings is almost certainly unreliable. Without knowing what kind of clinical population they’re working with it’s impossible to estimate cost or potential cost or savings. Are we talking about hospitalizations, medications, social work hours, transportation, what?

    I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just pointing out the fact that we need to be serious about health care and treatment.

    • Submitted by Bob Johnson on 09/03/2019 - 02:57 pm.

      I tend to agree with your view on this, Paul.
      It appears to be marketing; certainly not clinical.

      Aside from that, I find it interesting that President Trump is now blaming mass shootings on mental illness.
      I would submit that a more likely cause is hate.
      Hate does not equate to mental illness. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in one’s brain.
      Hate is is inspired by envy, nationalism, racism and religion.

      One in four of us know someone with or have experienced mental illness.
      Few of us have the hate it takes to commit mass shootings we’re seeing.

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