The Herald Bulletin

March 29, 2010

Madison County receives health wake-up call

Locals face higher rate of mortality than national average

By Justin Schneider, Herald Bulletin Online Reporter/Manager

ANDERSON, Ind. — The wake-up call went out Jan. 26.

The Madison County Community Health Center had invited Indiana Deputy Health Commissioner Loren Robertson to speak during its Ninth Annual State of Health Breakfast at Anderson Country Club in January. His speech was chilling.

His message: Madison County residents can expect a shorter lifespan than those living elsewhere in Indiana and throughout the United States.

“Madison County faces a higher death rate than the national average and a shorter lifespan than the rest of the country,” Robertson said, citing 2006 mortality statistics in a slide show presentation. “And that’s a difficult slide to put your arms around. We have a lot of work to do in Indiana and Madison County.”

In Anderson, the population is served by two hospitals Community Hospital and Saint John’s Medical Center. Both are developing innovative services and facilities to better serve the needs of its diverse clientele.

But if the national debate is any indication, the prohibitive cost of health care is keeping many people away from preventative care in exam rooms until they require immediate care in emergency rooms. That’s where the Madison County Community Health Center has proven valuable. With locations in Anderson and Elwood, it offers health services on a sliding scale based on income.

Crews continue to work on a $6 million expansion project at the Community Health Center in Anderson. It will add 25 exam rooms, 12 dental screening rooms and 12 optical screening rooms to better serve the uninsured and under-insured in Madison County.

The clinic already serves 13,525 people annually, including 12.6 percent of the county’s population over 65. A northern office in Elwood has served 16,700 patients since 2001.

“We’re encouraging behavioral health, we have a psychologist on staff from Ball State University,” said Anthony Malone, director of the Community Health Center. “That’s the kind of provider mentality that helps me get up in the morning and go to work and stay late.”

But Malone says Madison County has a long way to go. Indiana ranks 40th among the 50 states in federal funding for community health centers.

As 2010 begins, Indiana seems to have contained the H1N1 virus, which many fear may still become a global pandemic. As of January, the Indiana Department of Health had confirmed 786 cases and 37 confirmed deaths.

“We definitely have them scheduled through January, and we’ll see where we are and evaluate how much longer we want to continue those clinics beyond that,” Stephanie Grimes of the Madison County Health Department said of H1N1 vaccine.

Grimes said about 10,000 of the county’s approximately 130,000 residents have been inoculated against H1N1, commonly referred to as swine flu. So far, one Madison County death has been attributed to H1N1.

Local leaders see health care training as a way to improve the community’s overall health. In February, Anderson Community Schools began exploring the possibilities of adding a career academy with an emphasis on the medical field.

Politicians, too, have accepted their role in keeping Hoosiers healthy. A statewide bill banning smoking in public places, with the exception of casinos and so-called “racinos” was bantered about both houses, but saw no action during the 2010 session.

“I’ve come full circle on the issue,” State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Elwood, said recently. “Indiana is one of 13 states with no smoking ban. We rank fourth in the nation in the percentage of adults who smoke. We need to look at the true health cost; this is a reason why Indiana’s health index is so poor.”



Contact Justin Schneider at 640-4809 or justin.schneider@heraldbulletin.com