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Health agencies in Indiana are thinking big as more funding comes in



Shelbyville, Indiana – Expanded state funding, according to a public health nurse on Wednesday, is likely what kept her job and the services she offers Shelby County.

A funding for a school liaison nurse allowed Sara Thurman to join the Shelby County Health Department around two and a half years ago. She claimed it was difficult to predict if her position would remain once the grant expired because the funds were not included in the department’s regular budget.

“It’s a big relief to know that we will have the funding,” she said, “and the funding will also help us do more with the schools.”

Robert Lewis, the director of the health department and Thurman’s employer, stated that Shelby County officials’ acceptance of increased state funding allows him to permanently add Thurman to his payroll.

This spring, the General Assembly approved the initiative, which goes by the name Health First Indiana. Through the program, county officials are able to accept more cash for public health above and above the state’s minimum requirements. In return, the law mandates that public health organizations offer a standard set of services, such as vaccines, chronic illness prevention, fatality review systems, and food safety.

In Indiana, county health departments today offer a wide range of services. During this session, the matter was a top legislative priority.

Voters in 86 of the 92 counties in Indiana approved accepting the funds in exchange for offering the necessary services. Lewis claimed that little persuasion was required by the Shelby County commissioners and council. He stated that they were already aware of the difficulties his office was having with staffing, which were made worse by departures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an exciting time because our job at the health department is to promote and maintain the public health, to ensure they have clean air, water, soil,” he said.

Funding amounts differ greatly. Shelby County is going to get close to $456,000. The smallest county in terms of population and land area, Ohio County, will earn $136,000. Of all the counties, Marion County will receive the largest amount—$11.8 million. The Marion County Health Department officials stated that they are now developing a strategy for utilizing it.

Lewis added that Thurman would have a permanent job and that he would be able to retain another employee for his vital records team. He intends to appoint a full-time inspector of food safety as well. With more employees, he claims, he can offer more services and their workers won’t be overworked, allowing them to concentrate on what they do best.

Thurman added that she and other public health nurses wear multiple hats. She and her assistant packed bleed kits for schools, labeled naloxone to be distributed to public spaces, performed two tuberculosis tests, and gave a kid hepatitis B vaccination in the first two hours the health department was open on Wednesday.

More than 600 of these kits, according to her, will enable teachers to help students who have been shot or sustain other severe injuries.

“I think a lot of people look at the health department and think, ‘Oh, all they do is give shots to kids,’” she said. “There are a lot of things we are working on.”

Thurman, who will soon join the team full-time, said she also intends to offer health and safety services to new and pregnant women, including assisting with car seat installation and managing a breastfeeding support program.

The increased state money, according to Lewis, will start on January 1. According to him, each county’s leaders will need to make an annual decision over whether to take the additional funding.