Wells County

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Commissioners Rejection of Health Funding Statement
August 28, 2023


Realities within the Wells County Department of Health Necessitates Rejection of Health First Indiana Funding


“A large sum of money, offered to Wells County for addressing public health needs of our county seems like a gift worth taking. Unfortunately, the reality of accepting and responsibly spending such a ‘gift’ isn’t as simple as it seems because of the circumstances and realities within the Wells County Department of Health, the entity responsible for the programming, expenditures, and reporting requirements associated with the Health First Indiana program.


“Since the added attention and stressors brought on by the Covid pandemic that began in 2020, concerns about the state of the Wells County Department of Health have only increased. Specifically, county officials have continued to field concerns about the department’s management, or rather the lack thereof, by the County Health Officer, Dr. Kay Johnson. The concerns range from repeated allegations of combativeness/targeted retaliation by the Food Division upon local residents and community business to continued labor shortages and difficulties filling vacancies with quality employees.


‘Currently, our Wells County health department is in a state of flux. We are understaffed – short as many as four employees. It would be unfair to add additional responsibilities to any new employee along with tackling additional programs,’ points out Commissioner Blake Gerber.”


“Another consideration of the county and problem for the acceptance of the funding is that the Wells County Department of Health has failed to turn over vital health data requested by the Commissioners, nor has it proffered any comprehensive strategy for expenditure of the program funds to the Commissioners, despite knowing well in advance that the funds would be coming available.


‘We haven’t received or been able to glean a discernible strategy from our Health Department staff that would allow us to determine whether and in what ways state program funding would benefit Wells County. Moreover, we have requested certain health data from the Department and have been ignored. We have been aware of the availability of the state funding for a number of months, but have not seen proactive planning by the Health Department, nor have we had collaboration or outreach from our Health Department regarding our local needs or their desire for or planned use of the state program funding,’ said Commissioner Mike Vanover, County Commission President.


“As with any government program, there are sure to be strings attached with the acceptance of funds. Giving funds to counties for expenditure without conditions and requirements can be a recipe for waste, fraud, and abuse; however, in this case, the program reporting requirements are still murky and confusing. Add to that the reality that a new governor may change or cancel this program and its funding, and we could be in a position that requires a complete pivot to either terminate programming launched through use of the funds or increase the tax burden of Wells County residents to continue the services without the state funding.


‘We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Wells County. If we agree to this funding, we have to be prepared to continue it in the long term should state funding come to an end. We also have to be prepared for what we will do if requirements for acceptance change in a way that takes away local control of the programming. The new health programs, compliance with state requirements and data reporting to the State Department of Health have the potential to mean additional employees on our Wells County payroll, as well as programming that will only be successful over many more years than Governor Holcomb has remaining in office. There are just too many unknowns to responsibly accept the funds,’ reasons Commissioner Jeff Stringer.


“We all agree that responsible public health spending in Wells County is an important duty of our office – so is our oversight of the Wells County Department of Health. It would be unwise of us to accept a large influx of public health funding from the State of Indiana through the Wells County Department of Health in its current state. We are committed to seeing the process of turning the Department around through to a successful conclusion. As it is clear from the state that rejecting funds at this time does not prohibit accepting them in the future, we will give serious consideration to accepting future funding under a revitalized Wells County Health Department.”



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