Public health funding boost a shot in the arm

Bartholomew County received a little less than $1 million in new public health funding — money that will help meet pressing needs countywide and in the vast majority of Indiana counties that agreed to accept the money to better serve their residents.

The total of $938,011 awarded to the Public Health Nursing and Environmental Health divisions is for the first year of a new state program called Health First Indiana, The Republic’s Mark Webber reported. This new money — $75 million this year and $150 million next year statewide — is part of an initiative championed by Gov. Eric Holcomb and passed by lawmakers last year.

“We are required to spend this money on certain aspects that the state is requiring each health department to do,” Bartholomew County Director of Environmental Health Link Fulp told Webber. “Luckily for our department, we were already doing a majority of these core services.”

The money also gives each county some discretion about how a portion of the funding can be used, so localities have a little flexibility in addressing what the greatest local public health needs might be. And if you look at the local data from Indiana counties at, you’ll see that local public health needs and outcomes vary greatly.

For example, life expectancy in Bartholomew County is 78.01 years, better than the state average and 18th out of Indiana’s 92 counties. But in neighboring Jackson County, it’s almost three years less, on average — 75.2 years, 70th out of 92 counties. In next-door Jennings County, life expectancy is even lower — 73.7 years — fourth-lowest in Indiana. And in Jennings, the suicide rate is the second-highest in the state.

Here is some concerning data all three three of those counties have in common: They all score in the lowest 25% of Indiana counties for children under 3 years of age completing their recommended vaccine series. Just 46.5% of children in Jackson County received recommended vaccinations, and only about 53% did in Bartholomew and Jennings counties, well below the statewide average of 57.7%.

Perhaps the health departments in these counties will use some of this new funding to boost vaccination rates among children. Or help people to stop smoking. Or find new pathways to ensure people who most need health services have a way to access them.

Point is, this funding is a potential game-changer for the counties that have agreed to participate, and for residents of those counties whose health needs will be served. The program matches public health funding that counties were already allocating with a new infusion of state money.

Six of Indiana’s 92 counties, including Johnson, have opted not to participate, “because they feel there are too many strings attached,” Webber reported. They can explain to their constituents why they rejected a large new pot of public health money in exchange for some reporting requirements — which are always justified as an accountability measure whenever tax dollars are being used.

For the other 86 Indiana counties, this money will deliver results and give a much-needed boost to public health capabilities.

Holcomb deserves credit for getting this program enacted. For some Hoosiers, it may be a real life-saver.