Wayne County’s commissioners approved nearly $725,000 in Health First Indiana spending June 12, and state statistics show the county badly needs results from the new state program.

The Indiana Department of Health added three categories to its online county scorecards, and two of the three provided bad news for Wayne County. Becca Alliston, clinical director for the Wayne County Health Department, told commissioners about the new categories: opioid overdose rate, social vulnerability rate and suicide rate. Wayne County ranked among Indiana’s worst four counties in the first two of those categories. 

Wayne County’s opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people from 2018 to 2022 was 62.3, ranking 91st among the 92 counties. The county’s number is 15.7 deaths worse than the 90th-ranked county, and Wayne County’s total was worse than the 60.96 combined total of the list’s top 12 counties.

Wayne was not the only east central Indiana county struggling with opioid deaths, though. Fayette County, at 63.9, was the only county ranking worse than Wayne. In addition, Union County (39.7) ranked 85th and Randolph County (42.4) ranked 87th.

The social vulnerability index takes into account socioeconomic status, household characteristics, racial and ethnic minority status, housing type, and transportation, according to the state website. Wayne County’s 0.9669 rate ranked 89th, with Fayette County right behind at 0.9779 in 90th.

Of the three new categories, Wayne County ranked highest in suicide rate. There were 17.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 people from 2018 to 2022 in the county, ranking it 45th.

Wayne County’s opioid overdose rate and social vulnerability index rankings are worse than the county ranked in any of the previously listed categories. The previous worst category was life expectancy, where the 72.5 years for county residents ranks 87th.

The county’s best ranking is in the percentage of children younger than 3 who have completed their vaccination series. The county’s 68.2% ranks 26th, the only ranking besides suicide rate that’s among the top 50.

The state provides the category rankings as it significantly increased county public health funding this year through the Health First Indiana program. The state website shows Wayne County receiving $803,101.48 this year and is being allocated $1,547,357.25 next year.

Accepting the funding requires the county provide core services and rate its progress through key performance indicators. The health department analyzed the core services it needs help providing and requested proposals from outside agencies to address those core services.

Commissioners approved six contracts that extend through 2025. They are:

  • Reid Health, $260,389.
  • Neighborhood Health Center, $188,557.
  • Birth-to-Five, $100,000.
  • Purdue Extension, $88,309.44.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Wayne County, $59,995.
  • Bridges for Life, $27,880.

When the Wayne County Board of Health approved the contracts, it eliminated $21,775 for a supervisor’s time from Reid’s proposal. Commissioners added that money back into the contract and provided their approval with the condition the health board reinstates that money.

Alliston told commissioners that she discussed the issue with Dr. Paul Rider, the health board chair, and he indicated the board would be open to that reinstatement.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 19 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.