Dear Editor:

Indiana legislators will soon reconvene and consider overriding Gov. Holcomb’s veto of Senate Enrolled Act No. 005 (SEA 5), legislation crafted as a direct response to actions taken by local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the level of controversy surrounding SEA 5, more and more Hoosiers are aware of the dangerous consequences if the bill were to become law.

We now write with a plea to legislators that they avoid a rush to override and consider improving public health in Indiana through collaboration, consensus and attention to detail. Our organizations represent more than 1,300 local health department employees and thousands of doctors, nurses and public health professionals and hospital leaders in Indiana.

Most, if not all, would happily participate.

As Gov. Holcomb indicated, there are several important partners involved with public health in our state. From universities and non-profits to local mayors, councils and county commissioners, there is so much opportunity to find and implement improvements to our public health system.

This includes you as legislators, the governor, Indiana Department of Health and other state agencies. Working together, our state can become a national leader for public health. A thorough, thoughtful approach has led to significant success in other matters of statewide importance including economic development, infrastructure and tourism.

Our state’s primary problems regarding public health extend well beyond decision-making authority.

At a foundational level, Indiana lacks the infrastructure necessary to properly carry out its public health functions. We rank 48th in state funding for public health, which leads to a lack of resources and trained staff. When you combine that with the poor health status of our population, which ranks 41st out of 50 states, we are bound to have more negative outcomes compared to others.

The immediate transfer of both oversight and appeals would do little to change these rankings. To the contrary, we are concerned local governments are unprepared to accept these responsibilities, creating an even more challenging environment to address public health in our communities.

While sometimes it may seem that public health is pitted against economic vitality, it really is not health versus economy, but rather the long-term protection of economic success through smart, evidence-based strategies designed to reduce disease transmission with short-term protection strategies.

We must continue to trust data and science. The negative impacts of COVID-19 could and would have been much worse had it not been for the difficult decisions made by public health officials to protect their communities.

Please, legislators, consider a different path that will best serve and protect the health of all Hoosiers.

Jeremy P. Adler, M.D., President, Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials (INSACCHO) Health Officer, Tippecanoe County Health Department

Susan Jo Thomas, JD, MSW Past-President, Indiana Public Health Association (IPHA) Executive Director, Covering Kids & Families of Indiana

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