News and Tribune


September 10, 2013



Local health officer upset with state’s tactics

As Clark County’s health officer, I want to make comments on the Indiana State Health Commissioner William VanNess’ recent campaign to improve infant health within Indiana.

Unfortunately, Indiana has above national average rates of premature births, underweight babies and infant deaths. We also have higher rates of teenage pregnancy, smoking while pregnant and drinking alcohol and/or using drugs while pregnant.

Clark County has a prenatal clinic operated by the Health Department that has done a great job of improving the health of pregnant women and their babies, with our 2011 prematurity rate at 4 percent compared to the state at 10 percent, underweight newborn rate of 5 percent verses the state at 8.1 percent and infant death rate of 0 percent (0 percent for the last 4 years) verses the state death rate of 7.7 per 100 births.

I am dismayed by the fact that while the state health commissioner campaigns to improve the health of newborns, infants and pregnant women within Indiana, he and his agency, the State Department of Health, has substantially cut state funding for six of 41 state-funded prenatal clinics in Indiana.

These cuts came at a time when the state had a surplus of greater than $400 million, when Indiana ranks at or near the bottom of the states related to the federal dollars that are sent back to Indiana for health care and when Indiana ranks 37th of 50 states in the dollars spent by the state on health-related programs.

The state health commissioner and ISDH cut funding for health department prenatal programs in two contiguous counties — Clark and Floyd — much to the detriment of uninsured pregnant women and their babies in our region. As a result of these cuts, the Floyd County clinic has already closed and is now referring patients to our Clark County clinic, although we have a limited ability to serve them.

I am critical of the state health commissioner for a variety of reasons. First, while he is campaigning to improve the health of newborn infants in Indiana, he and his agency are cutting funds to programs that are doing just that. Second, rather than cutting funding a small amount for all 41 clinics, he and his agency cut it substantially for six. Third, the grant application processes involved assigning points for the quality of the application, rather than the quality of the prenatal clinic program; the six clinics with the lowest points were not funded. Fourth, rather than campaigning publicly and aggressively to grow the ISDH capture of federal and state health care dollars, he chose instead to accept a cut in funding.

There is a disconnect between what Dr. VanNess says and what he does. Talk is cheap.     

— Dr. Kevin R. Burke, Clark County health officer

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