Two years ago, the pandemic made what was clear even more obvious.
Indiana doesn’t direct enough resources toward public health.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, having acknowledged that the demands COVID placed on health resources highlighted the need for more spending in this area, announced the formation of a 15-person public health commission. Its mission was to spend the next year finding ways to improve the overall health of Indiana residents.
Holcomb’s executive order in August 2021 established the Governor’s Public Health Commission. The commission launched a series of listening sessions around the state to gather input about Indiana’s public health system, and has been meeting monthly to learn more about the challenges confronting public health professionals in Indiana.
The listening sessions have concluded, and on Thursday, the commission began the process of preparing its final report for the governor by the end of the summer, in time for 2023 budget discussions.
The focus of last week’s meeting was the role of emergency preparedness, without which “communities would be at risk of greater consequences when disaster does strike, and our health as a state would suffer, let alone long-term economic stability and resiliency,” noted commission co-chair Dr. Judy Monroe, a former Indiana state health officer, who serves as CEO and president of the foundation supporting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the state’s COVID response is clearly factoring into the commission’s work, the panel’s scope is intended to go far beyond this crisis.
That’s fitting, given that long before the pandemic struck, Indiana consistently ranked near the bottom in spending on public health and preparedness to handle a public health emergency. The need for this commission is obvious here in Indiana, with its lower life expectancies and higher health care costs.
At a listening session last month, Grant County Health Officer Dr. William David Moore noted that the state is 40th out of 50 states in terms of public health funding. “And it’s reflected in the health of our community.”
Among the issues addressed by speakers were drug and staffing crises, communication and funding. Multiple people who spoke up during public comment asked the commission to make sure the state doesn’t lose touch with local health departments.
Moore said he’s “hopeful” that Indiana is taking a thorough look at public health: “The issues that they’re raising are right on point, and they give us an opportunity to do that.”
But he said that while the discussion is a good start, he wants to see action.
He’s right. As encouraging as the governor’s words acknowledging the problem are, as welcome as the creation of a public health commission is, it will mean little without a commitment to acting, to putting state money and a comprehensive plan behind the words.
In his 2018 State of the State address, Holcomb noted, “We all know, a healthy Indiana depends first and foremost on the health of our people.”
It’s long past time to get to work on the cure for an ailing public health system.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Eric Holcomb’s order established the Governor’s Public Health Commission.