Indiana’s top health official recently visited Wayne County as the state begins its Health First Indiana program.

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state’s health commissioner, and members of her team met with local health and elected officials Jan. 12. Becca Alliston, the clinical director for the Wayne County Health Department, updated the county’s Board of Health members about the visit during the board’s Jan. 16 meeting.

Wayne County received $801,000 in Health First Indiana funding, which is new additional money this year beyond the $827,000 allocated within the county’s 2024 budget. Alliston said the department wants to use the additional money to expand Richmond Fire Department’s mobile integrated healthcare program countywide, to increase available resources for tobacco and vaping cessation, and to increase initiatives regarding student health.

She said the department is reviewing contracts other counties are using to work with community partners to reach goals and provide required core services.

Dr. David Jetmore, the county’s health officer, said that although counties have unique health problems, many problems, such as obesity and smoking, are shared. Those common issues create a pathway for shared solutions, as well.

“It’ll be interesting to me if somebody figures out a unique method for these problems that really works, they can share that with the rest of us,” Jetmore said. “If we find something that really clicks and is a great program, we can share that with others. I think that’s one of the strengths of this is the collaboration between counties through the Indiana State Board of Health.”

According to the state’s online county health scorecard, Wayne County ranks 57th among Indiana counties with a 23% smoking rate and 68th with a 37% adult obesity rate. Other state rankings include 50th in infant mortality rate at 7.40 per 1,000 live births, 78th for suicide rate at 21.1 per 100,000 people, 82nd for years of potential life lost to injury with 3,869.5 and 90th in life expectancy at 72.9 years.

On a positive note, the county ranks 30th in child immunization rate at 67.1%. Alliston said mobile and after-hours immunization clinics have helped raise the immunization number. 

During his director’s report, Jetmore said COVID-19 case numbers have dropped since reaching a high during Christmas week. He said national numbers are up 45%, while Indiana cases are down 3% and county cases are down 41%. There were three COVID-related deaths of county residents during December.

Wayne County has seen increases of more than 300% in flu cases and 75% in RSV cases, Jetmore said.

Board vacancies

After meeting in executive session to discuss possible new members, the board recommended Mark Broeker, Kathy Khamis, Dr. Phillip Scott, Dr. Jim Swonder and Brandon Guth to Wayne County’s commissioners for appointment to fill two vacancies.

Alliston presented the candidates during the commissioners’ Jan. 17 meeting. The health board has two vacancies created by the resignations of Bob Coddington and Dr. Jon Igelman. Coddington’s term expires at the end of 2024, and Igelman’s at the end of 2026.

Commissioners took the recommendations under advisement to consider whom they will appoint.

At the beginning of their meeting, health board members voted for Dr. Paul Rider to continue as chair and Sabrina Pennington to remain vice chair.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 24 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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