Wayne County residents can expect to live about six years less than an average American and about four years less than the average Hoosier.

The county’s life expectancy is 72.9 years, according to the Indiana Department of Health. That’s 90th among Indiana’s 92 counties.

A new Health First Indiana program gives the Wayne County Health Department an opportunity to address issues — such as injuries, addictions, mental health problems and disease — that cut Wayne County lives short. The state legislature this year provided $225 million in additional health funding for 2024 and 2025.

Counties have until Sept. 1 to accept the Health First Indiana funding. Wayne County’s commissioners are waiting to see the health department’s strategic plan and budget before deciding whether to join the program. Already, 45 counties have opted to join the program.

Each participating county’s funding depends on how many counties accept funds. Wayne County would receive between $773,678.63 and $1,031,571.50 during 2024 and between $1,547,357.25 and $2,063,143 during 2025. If the county does not participate, it would receive $79,259.81 in state funding.

The Wayne County Health Department has prepared a strategic plan for 2024 (https://www.in.gov/localhealth/waynecounty/files/WCHD-Strategic-Plan-Updated-002.pdf), and it conducted the initial Community Health Coalition meeting July 18 to review the plan and preliminary budget. The coalition brings together partners that will help the health department provide required core services and address health needs. The health department plans to use existing services and programs, especially in areas outside its expertise, such as mental health.

“It’s not just the health department’s plan, it’s the plan of the Community Health Coalition, so Wayne County is speaking with one voice for health — we have one vision instead of being so siloed,” said Christine Stinson, executive director of the health department, during the July 20 meeting of the Wayne County Board of Health.

Board member Amanda Mullins, the manager for adult services at Centerstone, said she was impressed with the material presented during the coalition meeting. 

“I think there was a lot of good discussion around what services are already taking place in the community and how we can really investigate and determine where the gaps are,” Mullins said.

The strategic plan includes 16 parts, including ways to attack tobacco use, improve child health and prevent chronic diseases and injuries, in addition to many services already provided. A key point is linkage to services that already exist.

Stinson said the department will contract with other community organizations. An example might be a program offering naltrexone injection (branded as Vivitrol) to help treat substance addiction. The health department can provide funding to assist a program, but not provide the program itself. The health department already has expressed support to expand Richmond Fire Department’s paramedicine program to include the entire county.

“I believe there’s great community support and excitement around the health department’s decision to expand and support the paramedicine program,” Mullins said, adding it would be an important service to the county.

Wayne County ranks among the lower tier of Indiana counties in several categories tracked by the state department of health. And that’s in a state that ranks 45th for tobacco use, 46th for obesity, 43rd for mental health, 41st for childhood immunizations and 45th for public health funding.

Wayne County ranks 90 in life expectancy of the 92 counties in the state, according to data published by the Indiana Department of Health. Screenshot from in.gov

Among Indiana’s counties, according to the state’s County Health Scorecard (https://www.in.gov/health/directory/office-of-the-commissioner/gphc/county-scorecard/), Wayne County ranks 82nd in years of potential life lost due to injury, 68th in adult obesity at 37%, 60th in infant mortality rate at 7.40, 57th in smoking rate at 23% and 30th in children younger than 3 completing recommended vaccine series at 67.1%.

Stinson said that smoking appears on nearly all of the death certificates for residents who die from respiratory failure or heart disease. The Health First Indiana program would allow the department to determine scientifically what’s causing deaths and develop programs to address those causes.

The health department’s strategic plan would provide a start in 2024, with the coalition members having more input into 2025 planning when areas of need are further identified. The department must also learn how Wayne County Council will fund it during 2025.

Health First Indiana intends to provide additional funding to local health departments, trying to improve per capita health spending that was $55 compared to $91 nationally. Participating counties in 2024 must fund their local health departments at the average they funded them from 2021 to 2023. Stinson presented council a 2024 budget of $778,725, which is lower than the 2023 budget of $863,020 because she moved two positions into her Health First Indiana budget.

However, the state would allow the county to drop 2025 funding so it’s between $324,445.88 and $432,594.50 depending on the Health First Indiana funding amount. Stinson told the board she hopes the council values public health and will continue funding the department as it currently does.

“2024 is where we’re laying the tracks down for 2025,” Stinson said. “It’s hard to project now what 2025 is going to look like. There’s still a lot of moving pieces. One of the big moving pieces is what amount of continuing funding will the council fund us at. It’s hard to project out what we’ll be able to do in 2025.”

Share this:

A version of this article appeared in the July 26 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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