The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana kicked off its 17-stop State of Our Health Road Show on April 13 with the inaugural State of Our Health Summit in Indianapolis. More than 300 health care, business, and community leaders attended the event, which focused on identifying ways stakeholders can come together to improve Hoosier health.
Bryan Mills, president and CEO of Community Health Network and chairman of the Alliance, welcomed attendees with a clear statement on the challenges Indiana faces. The state ranks 38th in the overall health of its citizens and is among the worst in the nation in obesity, tobacco use, infant mortality, and opioid abuse.
“The Alliance aims to raise awareness of our public health crisis and rally grassroots support across the state for action from our policymakers,” said Mills. “Our biggest challenge is the myth that there isn’t anything we can do about poor Hoosier health. In fact, there is something we can do about this—and we know it will work.”
The Road Show will stop in 17 cities across the state from April through October. The goal is to raise awareness of Indiana’s poor health rankings and build support for better Hoosier health among local health care providers, employers, advocates, and community leaders.
Dennis Murphy, president and CEO of Indiana University Health, said he hopes the Road Show will inspire action.
“The provider community believes that we can do better and we must do better,” Murphy said. “Indiana has done a great job improving its position in areas like education, economic development, and infrastructure, and we should be proud of those improvements. But we need to apply the same energy and focus to improving our standing as a state on public health.”
Road Show partner Ivy Tech Community College hosted the summit, and Dr. Kathy Lee, chancellor of the Indianapolis campus, addressed the workforce impacts of poor statewide health. The community college network plans to boost the Hoosier economy by awarding 50,000 certifications, certificates, and degrees each year—an ambitious goal that Lee said requires healthy students, healthy workers, and businesses that aren’t overburdened by high employee health care costs.
Award-winning author D’Anne Burwell gave the keynote address. All Road Show attendees will receive a complimentary copy of her book, “Saving Jake: When Addiction Hits Home,” which recounts her son’s struggle with opioid addiction and the impact on her family.
The event also included a panel discussion featuring Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Paul Halverson, founding dean of the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI; Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana state health commissioner; and Dr. Jennifer Walthall, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
Brinegar called for the legislature to support the cigarette tax increase championed by Road Show partner Raise It for Health, noting that smoking is a burden on business. Currently, Indiana’s 99.5-cent per pack tax is the lowest in the region and well below the national average of $1.55. He argued that something must be done about Indiana’s 21 percent smoking rate.
“Unless you are in the tobacco business, tobacco is bad for business,” Brinegar said. “In Indiana, smoking costs our businesses more than $6 billion per year in unnecessary health care costs, and a smoker costs an employer 40 percent more than a non-smoker.”
According to Raise It for Health, raising the tax is a proven method to lower a state’s smoking rate. The group is calling for an increase of $1.50 per pack, which it says will cause 100,000 Hoosiers to quit smoking.
Box connected the state’s high smoking rate to infant mortality, pointing out that 13.4 percent of pregnant women smoke in Indiana, twice the national average.
“We talk about infant mortality in terms of the number of deaths per 1,000 births, but we must remember that an infant mortality rate of 7 deaths per 1,000 births in Indiana equals 623 Hoosier babies that died last year,” said Box.
Despite all the sobering statistics, Halverson called for those in attendance to be optimistic about the potential for improvement.
“There is reason to be optimistic, and that is that we know our way out of this. We don’t need to experiment or come up with new ideas. We have proven solutions at our fingertips,” Halverson said. “That’s the reality. We know how to fix this. We just need the political will to fix this.”
See more photos and reaction to the event at Facebook.com/HealthierIndiana.