INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are working on legislation to expand the services offered by county health departments.
Earlier this year, a commission formed by Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana needs to significantly ramp up public health funding to meet the national average. It called on state lawmakers to spend an additional $240 million a year.
For Clinton County health administrator Rodney Wann, who has spent nearly two decades in public health, the challenges caused by a lack of funding are all too familiar.
“A public health nurse can be one minute dealing with a contagious disease situation… and at the same time, turn around and be dealing with an elevated lead level case,” Wann explained.
In its report, the governor’s public health commission cited several rankings which found Indiana to be among the bottom ten states for public health spending.
Now, state lawmakers say they’re working to change that.
“Hamilton County and Scott County – there’s a nine year difference in life expectancy,” explained State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), who is writing the bill that will share how that funding can be used.
Under the proposal, counties would have to offer certain minimum services if they want to receive additional state dollars, Charbonneau explained. Health departments would not be required to participate, he added.
One idea being discussed is having county health departments help in school nurses’ offices to reduce staffing shortages, Charbonneau said.
The governor’s public health commission found Indiana does not have enough school nurses right now.
“I think we’re looking at maybe a nurse for every 750 children,” Charbonneau said.
Charbonneau said he wants to create state health department liaisons to help counties share public health resources. His bill would also help provide more services for trauma care, especially in rural areas, he added.
Some Democrats say they like the ideas being discussed so far.
“I like the fact that we’re focusing on local health departments, that we’re trying to bring some standardization,” said State Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis).
But Republican lawmakers working on the budget have said it’s not clear if they’ll be able to meet the commission’s original request of $240 million per year in additional state funding.
“That’s not a one-time deal – it’s ongoing,” said State Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen), who chairs the Senate Appropriations committee. “So we have to really take a hard look at that.”
The governor’s public health commission recently adjusted its budget request to $120 million in new funding the first year for the new budget and about $230 million in the second year.
The bills on funding and implementation are still being drafted.