Most serious health issues emerge: Road show comes to Columbus on Tuesday

Staff Reports

A public health forum Tuesday in Columbus will focus on four specific issues of concern.

Indiana ranks among the worst states in the country in drug deaths, obesity, smoking and infant mortality, as well as public health funding, according to the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana. With 50th being the worst possible score, Indiana ranks:

34th in drug deaths

40th in obesity

41st in percentage of smokers

42nd in infant mortality

49th in public health funding

Discussions on each of these topics will be included in the 2018 State of Our Health Road Show, presented by the health alliance, a coalition of health care professionals, advocates, and community and business leaders from across the state.

The Road Show is a series of regional town hall meetings across the state where community leaders, public safety workers, health care providers, employers and elected officials can hear about the alliance’s plans for 2018 and beyond, which include raising awareness of Indiana’s poor health rankings and sharing ideas about ways communities can work together to improve the health of Hoosiers.

A majority of the Road Show audiences tend to be people in the healthcare industry and others involved in community programs, but members of the public are encouraged to attend the free program as their schedules allow, the alliance said.

The Columbus event, which is free but requires registration, will be 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave.

“The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana was created to tackle Indiana’s most pressing public health issues — smoking, obesity, infant mortality, and the opioid epidemic,” said Bryan Mills, president and CEO of Community Health Network and chair of the alliance. “Because we are committed to improving the health of all Hoosiers, we’re taking our message on the road to build awareness and rally grassroots support for policy change at the Statehouse in 2019.”

The 17-stop Road Show series launched with an April 13 summit in Indianapolis. Columbus is the 14th stop, with the series wrapping up Oct. 12 in Sellersburg.

The Alliance said its top policy priority is to reduce Indiana’s smoking rate by raising the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack.

Twenty-one percent of Hoosier adults smoke, costing the state billions of dollars in health care costs, according to the alliance. The state cigarette excise tax is 99.5 cents per pack, which was last increased in 2007.

A $1.50-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax would generate $315 million in its first year that could go toward local public health programs, including opioid prevention and treatment, the alliance said.

Attendees Tuesday will have the opportunity to ask questions from and share ideas with 18 speakers or expert presenters.

They include Jim Bickel, president and CEO for Columbus Regional Health; Christina Ross, interim dean of Health Services, Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus; Heather Carson, director, Council for Youth Development Bartholomew County; Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce; Ryan Brewer, associate professor of finance at IUPUC; Laura Leonard, president of Our Hospice of South Central Indiana; and Kylee Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator for Columbus Regional Health.

Bickel plans to brief the audience on the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County program, launched last year, and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop will also talk about the program in his welcome, said Beth Morris, director of Community Health Partnerships for Columbus Regional Health.

All four of the key topics — substance abuse, obesity, smoking and infant mortality — have been on Bartholomew County’s radar for some time. They are identified as areas of opportunity in the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment study, for implementation in 2017-2019.

Bartholomew County has seen progress in smoking rates, said Beth Morris, director of Community Health Partnerships for Healthy Communities, which was launched in 1994. But there is more to do locally regarding obesity and infant mortality, she said.

Bartholomew has the highest infant mortality rate among Indiana counties, said Morris, who will comment on that during her closing remarks for Tuesday’s program.

The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in Bartholomew County was 9.4 in 2014-2016, compared to the statewide rate of 7.3, she said.

“Our jaws dropped when that came out,” Morris said. “We’re taking a hard look at what we need to do differently.”

One program that has had significant success on infant mortality rates elsewhere is the Nurse-Family Partnership, which has been operating for more than 30 years, Morris said.

The program, which pairs a registered nurse with a first-time mom through the baby’s second birthday, is operated by Goodwill Industries of Central and Southern Indiana. It launched locally in February and is housed at Columbus Regional Hospital, although nurses spend the majority of their time traveling to clients’ homes, Morris said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana is a group of health care professionals, advocates, and community and business leaders from across the state who are committed to improving Hoosier health.

For more information on the Alliance and the health care issues facing Indiana, visit

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Here is the program for Tuesday’s session in the Columbus Learning Center Auditorium, 4555 Central Ave., Columbus.

7:30 a.m.: Breakfast and networking

8 a.m.: Welcome and opening remarks

  • Christina Ross, interim dean of Health Services, Ivy Tech Community College – Columbus
  • Jim Lienhoop, mayor of Columbus
  • Jim McClelland, executive director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement, State of Indiana

8:30 a.m.: Health of the Region

  • Jim Bickel, president and CEO, Columbus Regional Health

8:40 a.m. About the Alliance

  • Julie Reed, executive vice president, Indiana State Medical Association

8:50 a.m.: Healthy Choices

  • Kimberly Roop, Medicaid Plan president, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Indiana

9 a.m.: The State of the Child: Health

  • Charlie Geier, vice president of impact and data solutions, Indiana Youth Institute
  • Heather Carson, director, Council for Youth Development Bartholomew County

9:30 a.m.: The Business View

  • Cindy Frey, president, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Ryan Brewer, associate professor of finance, director of Master’s in Business Administration program, IUPUC

9:50 a.m.: Community Health

  • Joel Philippsen, director of marketing and WellConnect, Columbus Regional Health

10:10 a.m.: Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives

  • Dr. Cynthia Meneghini, physician, Community Health Network

10:25 a.m.: Health in the Minority Community

  • Laura Leonard, Hospice of South Central Indiana

10:35 a.m.: Tobacco

  • Kylee Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator, Healthy Communities
  • Bryan Hannon, director of Indiana Government Relations, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

10:55 a.m.: Mental Health and Addiction

  • Brandon George, director, Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition

11:05 a.m.: Working With Families

  • Cindy Hunt, Nurse Supervisor for Southern Region, Goodwill Nurse-Family Partnership

11:15 a.m.: Closing Remarks, Calls to Action

  • Beth Morris, director of Community Health Partnerships, Columbus Regional Health

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at

For more information on the Alliance and the health care issues facing the state, visit