Mental health leader retiring

Harry Cook is retiring as president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services North.

Harry Cook is retiring as president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services North. Photo by Stephen Bartlett.

Then he entered the public school system in suburban New Jersey, work he enjoyed, though Cook wanted to stretch himself.

He moved to the North Jersey Shore, spending time as a clinician in a mental health center in an upscale community.

At the Children’s Psychiatric Center Community Mental Health Center, Cook did pre-vocational programming for a couple years and ran groups around pragmatic learning.

“These were kids who had historically been institutionalized.”

So he started with after school chores.

“I can remember teaching kids how to mop floors in an organized way.”

Cook was offered a job developing specialized children’s services in the rapidly growing Jersey Shore area, starting as director of children’s services. He started a day treatment program and a school for adolescents with severe mental illnesses.

At 37, he took over as CEO of the agency, doing budgets by hand for a time after the financial department was wiped out.

Meanwhile, Cook got married, and when his oldest reached school age, he realized he didn’t want to bring up his children there.

“I wanted to get back to a more rural area.”

He saw the position for president and ceo in the New York Times for what is now Behavioral Health Services North and headed north for an interview.

Cook knew instantly he wanted to raise his family in the area, and when he was offered the job he took it, despite a 20 percent cut in salary.

That was 1989, and today, his youngest is graduating from college, another graduated from Clinton Community College, a third is working on a doctorate and a fourth wants to enter public service.

His wife teaches special education locally.

BHSN has flourished during Cook’s tenure with a recent expansion of adult services at the newly renovated Center for Well Being facility on Route 22B in Morrisonville.

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