A recent report ranked Indiana last in terms of access to comprehensive public health systems, showing that in 2018, only a quarter of residents had access.
Nonprofit health policy advocacy group Trust for America’s Health published the findings. They showed that, nationwide, around 45% of residents had access to that type of care. Kentucky lands at 37%.
The ranking is one of several metrics that put Indiana and 12 other states – including Kentucky – in the bottom tier for state emergency preparedness in 2021, according to the report.
Indiana did receive some kudos in the report: highlights included its participation in the Nurse Licensure Compact and the fact 99% of its community water systems are clean from contamination.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the overall poor emergency preparedness ranking, though, underscores the need for the Governor’s Public Health Commission, which he established in August to take a comprehensive look at public health policies in the state and address shortfalls.
“It speaks to why we exist, why we’re here, what we’re trying to do and what our major goal is to accomplish,” Box, who serves as secretary on the new 15-member board, said.
The commission meets monthly, discussing things like childhood and adolescent health, infrastructure and funding. Members plan to create a report by the end of the year, to help inform legislation in the next general assembly.
During its most recent meeting last week, the board discussed emergency preparedness and its role in public health.
“Often when an individual is lacking resources, they don’t have insurance, they may not have a primary care provider,” said Stephen Cox, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. “What do they do when they … need some sort of health care service? They oftentimes call 911.”
He said that’s happening more frequently, straining emergency services nationwide. Cox said in 2021 Indiana, there were roughly 1.25 million calls that required an ambulance run, up from around 750,000 in 2018.
That spike happened as the number of ambulances has dropped from 2,000 to about 1,800 over the past two years.
“EMS is in trouble nationwide,” he said.
Cox also said it’s also important to have response training and resources ready to be scaled to fit the situation – like with H1N1 flare-ups, and the 2014 cluster of HIV cases in Scott County which eventually prompted then-Gov. Mike Pence to declare a state of emergency.
“None of us can help but have a focus on COVID for the time being,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that before COVID hit it wasn’t always just a nationwide pandemic that we responded to.”
“Being prepared means that we’ve got to have the infrastructure in place, the training in place for individuals, the critical partnerships that we realized were so important throughout this pandemic and the funding.”
Members of the public can submit comments related to topics the commission covers here.