State leaders announce Governor’s Public Health Commission; 15-member group will oversee Indiana’s public health system

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INDIANAPOLIS — Governor Eric Holcomb introduced a new statewide entity on Hoosier health, the Governor’s Public Health Commission.

It will be made up of 15 members and will be led by two co-chairs, former state Sen. Luke Kenley and former state health commissioner Dr. Judy Monroe. Together, the commission will examine Indiana’s public health system and make recommendations to improve its structure, funding and operations.

“We’re simply trying to build the best state in the country,” said Holcomb, pledging the new development will help shape Indiana’s health care system for the next 100 years.

“This review, coupled with our ongoing commitment to improve key health indicators, will best position Indiana to be a great state to live, work, play and invest in and grow a healthy workforce.”

The governor signed an Executive Order on Wednesday creating the commission.

Graphic provided by Governor Holcomb’s Office

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the commission has the ability to transform Hoosier health.

“I am incredibly proud of the work each health department has done throughout the pandemic…but they also deserve our help, and that is the goal of this commission.”

“The task ahead couldn’t be more important,” said Holcomb and touted Dr. Box and her team as the very “backbone of these efforts [in healthcare.]”

According to a release, the commission will include subgroups that will examine topics ranging from funding and resources to delivery of services and collection and use of data.

Graphic provided by Governor Holcomb’s Office

According to officials, the premise of the commission was planned before the pandemic, although the current situation with COVID has only exacerbated the need to modernize Indiana’s public health system.

“Indiana’s public health workforce is made up of some of the most dedicated people you will ever encounter,” Dr. Box said.

“They truly care about their communities and have worked tirelessly to protect Hoosiers. They deserve our heartfelt thanks, and they deserve our help. Determining what that help should look like is the goal of this commission.”

Holcomb and Box on recent resurgence in COVID cases

During the briefing, Holcomb and Box were asked several times about the recent resurgence in COVID cases, including a query on whether there were plans to reopen more testing sites as some Hoosiers have experienced longer wait times. Holcomb said the short answer was, “Yes.”

Dr. Box expanded on the idea, saying, “The things we are doing to address that is we are literally pulling back many [Indiana] Guard members that we had given some time to be with their families after 18 months. We are in the process of supporting our local health departments. We’ve got 53 of 94 of them that are actually doing testing, but they need help to do the amount of testing that they are doing. We will help to embed Guard members there.”

Governor Holcomb also commented on the strain the pandemic has placed on many local health departments, saying the word “overwhelmed” is an understatement, and that the recent surge in hospitalizations can be especially frustrating, since the majority of patients are unvaccinated.

“We know the vaccine works, and that is the first answer to getting our way not just through this but out of this,” said Holcomb. “So that’s overwhelming — when you see person after person after person, in terms of those numbers jumping. You see in a week’s period 137 out of 137 folks in an ICU that’s unvaccinated — that’s overwhelming.”

He called on Hoosiers to “do the right thing” and get vaccinated, saying that was key to keeping kids in school and businesses open.

Democratic response

The Indiana Democratic Party released a statement on the newly announced commission, saying in part it was “nothing but a hollow headline.”

“Indiana becomes a healthy state when it addresses today’s most pressing problems facing families, and right now that’s COVID-19. Unfortunately, Governor Holcomb and his administration today treated the pandemic as if the worst was behind Indiana when in fact, the state is experiencing a new wave of cases brought on by the highly-contagious Delta variant. As the Governor once said, Indiana is once again on fire, and Eric Holcomb treated today’s commission announcement as a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for the state when the reality just doesn’t match up. Indiana Democrats have already stepped up by passing the American Rescue Plan this year, but until Indiana Republicans start telling the truth to their voters, today’s announcement may be nothing but a hollow headline.”

Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party

The Governor’s Public Health Commission is expected to begin its work in September and provide recommendations within a year. The group’s findings will be made available in a report by summer of 2022.

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