WATCH NOW: Local health officials, politicians gather for roundtable after governor’s commission finds significant public health reform needed | Gary News
GARY — There are only five practicing physicians who live in the city of Gary — two of them in Dr. Roland Walker’s house.
Walker, the Gary health commissioner and chief medical officer for Edgewater Health, operates a pediatric practice with his wife. However, because about 95% of their patients use Medicaid, they both have to work other jobs.
During a Thursday morning roundtable discussion on public health policy in Northwest Indiana, multiple medical organizations echoed Walker. The cost of providing care has risen with inflation while Indiana’s Medicaid reimbursement rate remains stagnant, making it hard to stay afloat.
“You cannot sustain a staff, maintain a building and see patients with that kind of reimbursement. It cannot be done,” Walker said.
The roundtable, led by state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, was organized after the recently released final report of the Governor’s Public Health Commission identified nearly three dozen areas in need of improvement. A top issue discussed both in the report and during the roundtable was stable funding.
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The Public Health Commission said Indiana currently spends about $55 per person in state and federal funds each year on public health programs and services. The national average is $91 per person.
Matthew Doyle, president and CEO of Methodist Hospitals, said about 82% of the hospital’s proceeds come from the federal government. While the cost of supplies steadily rises and hospitals across the country face a worsening nursing shortage, Methodist’s income stays the same.
“We treat everyone, and then we deal with the financial situation post,” Doyle said.
Dr. Danita Johnson, president and CEO of Edgewater Health, said low Medicaid reimbursement rates impact care quality and access. With locations in Gary, Cedar Lake and Griffith, Edgewater Health began with a focus on behavioral health. However, Johnson said, Edgewater “quickly realized you have to treat the whole person.” Because physical wellness impacts mental wellness and vice-versa, Edgewater now provides primary care.
To make their offerings as holistic and accessible as possible, Edgewater offers transportation, housing and at-home health monitoring devices for patients, a feat that is becoming increasingly difficult with low Medicaid reimbursements, Johnson said.
“We (the city of Gary) have a pharmacy desert, a food desert and we are starting to have a health care desert,” Walker said.
In Lake County, 8% of residents 65 and younger do not have health insurance, lower than the national number of 10.2% and the state number of 9%. In Gary, 11.8% of residents in the same age range do not have insurance.
Though Methodist tries to connect patients with insurance, it remains a huge barrier to care. Without regular check-ups and screenings, manageable or even preventable health issues can become fatal.
The report released by the Public Health Commission notes that life expectancy in Indiana declined to 77 years in 2019 from a high of 77.5 years in 2010. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2020, Hoosier life expectancy dropped to 75 — lower than 39 of the 50 states.
In Northwest Indiana, the top cause of death from 1999 to 2020 was heart disease. Methodist is exploring more preventative care options to address Indiana’s poor health outcomes. Doyle said the hospital has started a food pharmacy where patients can actually receive prescriptions for nutritious groceries.
Gary Common Council President William Godwin, D-1st, also said the city has plans to improve the Gary Health Department and create the Tolleston Opportunity Hub.
A partnership between the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, Crossroads YMCA and Methodist Hospitals, the Tolleston Opportunity Hub will build on the existing Gary branch of the Boys and Girls Club, adding a YMCA and a health care clinic.
“We’re not just doing this so people can play basketball. This is about preventative care, this is about social care, this is about access,” Godwin said.
Melton said he wanted to organize the roundtable before the General Assembly meets for the 2023 session in early January. He thinks the report could encourage the Republican-controlled legislature to approve allocating more state funding for health care.
“This is just the beginning of the conversation,” Melton told the crowd.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. — here’s how it breaks down by state
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.—here’s how it breaks down by state
#37. New Hampshire
#36. North Dakota
#35. Rhode Island
#32. New Mexico
#31. South Dakota
#29. North Carolina
#24. New Jersey
#20. South Carolina
#14. New York
#10. West Virginia