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Public Health Day emphasizes efforts by advocates to increase investment in public health systems

State leaders emphasized the importance of improving the state’s public health system during an event at Indiana’s Statehouse Thursday. Health advocates and various government officials say supporting this system will require increased funding and investment toward public health resources.

Gov. Eric Holcomb asked lawmakers for $120 million for the coming fiscal year, and more than $220 million the following year.

This follows funding and investment recommendations from the Governor’s Public Health Commission last year. Recommendations included an increased focus on emergency preparedness services, increased public health workers and more accessible funding for local health departments.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box served on this commission. At Public Health Day, she emphasized the importance of public health within the community.

“What we’ve learned in the three last years is we should never take our health for granted and our quality of life and length of life depends on this,” she said.

Box said education is vital in spreading this mission and encouraging investment in public health.

“What we’re trying to do here is educate people about what public health really is and how it’s about preventing injury and how it’s about preventing these chronic diseases and how it’s not just about masks and it’s not just about one pandemic that’s been a once-in-a-hundred-year thing,” she said.

Box said public health relies on bringing clinical and public health, as well as social services, together.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said the effort is multi-faceted.

“This isn’t just writing a check and handing it to someone in 92 different counties,” he said. “There will be an audit, there will be an assessment, there will be a reporting, this will be a transparent endeavor.”

Holcomb said much of his time in the Statehouse has been spent observing economic improvements – which he believes is tied to public health.

“We know what can stunt or stifle business,” he said. “It's a workforce – healthy or lack thereof – workforce.”

READ MORE: Governor’s Public Health Commission issues final report with $240M price tag, following system study

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Other health advocates spoke on the importance of the public health system during the event.

Cara Veale is CEO of the Indiana Rural Health Association. She said specifically catering to different needs for communities throughout the state is an important component for public health.

“We can't continue to rely on our local health departments to always be the ones who drive the campaigns for vaccines,” she said. “We can't rely on the hospitals to always be the ones to respond to cardiovascular disease and stroke and diabetes. We have to come together to be able to create community-specific programming, and opportunities that are going to be impactful in each individual community.”

She said this can look different between rural and urban counties, and different counties in general. Veale adds that public health would also benefit from an approach that stops disease before it happens.

“I think we have a significant opportunity to shift the way we have addressed health care from a retroactive and a responsive approach to a prevention perspective,” she said.

Box said another part of improving public health systems will involve counties working together. She adds a big issue is the lack of specifically trained individuals in some counties.

“Currently, because people have to have many hats, we have one or two employees in some health departments, they have to be the jack of all trades and they’re not the master of anything sometimes,” Box said.

She said a potential solution would be training individuals with expertise in specific areas, such as food inspection, that can be shared across county lines to mitigate these staffing shortages.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer for the Marion County Public Health Department, re-emphasized the state’s current lack of funding for public health during the panel discussion.

“We spend $55 per person, the national average is $90,” she said. “About $55 is what we spend here. Some of our local health department's per capita spending is $1.25 per person in some of the counties, compared to our highest at $83 and even $83 is not even meeting the national average.”

Holcomb said he will continue to work with state health officials and advocates to increase investment in public health systems. Two bills currently in committee, SB 4and HB 1001, could help achieve the goals of Public Health Day.

HB 1001 is the state’s two-year budget. SB 4 includes a host of public health resources, including increased cooperation between local and state health departments and availability of annual local health department reports to the public.

Contact reporter Violet at or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

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Violet Comber-Wilen