FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — If the state of Indiana could put a dollar in a machine and get seven dollars back, feeding the machine would seem like a good idea.

According to Mindy Waldron, Allen County Health Department Administrator and a member of the Governor’s Public Health Commission, that is exactly what the legislature should do with public health funding.

“[It] really does equate to economic development,” she told WANE 15. “You get back somewhere between a $7 and $14 return for every one dollar you put into public health preventive services.”

How?

“You have less insurance costs, you have fewer people out of work,” she continued. “The progressive states that you see doing well on public health funds have programming at the local level geared toward those public health prevention efforts. And that’s our hope.”

Waldron spent the last 10 months as part of Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s Public Health Commission. Holcomb charged the group to study Indiana’s public health system and make recommendations for improvement. The report was released this month in time for the 2023 legislative season.

Among the findings: both life expectancy and public health funding lag in the Hoosier state, with Indiana landing at 40th and 45th, respectively, among U.S. states.

Indiana spends $55 per person on public health compared to the $91 national average.

Life expectancy in Indiana has been declining since 2010, when it peaked at 77.5 years. Indiana’s life expectancy in 2019 was 77 years, almost two years below the U.S. average of 78.8, placing us 40th in the nation. Of even greater concern is that difference between the Indiana county with the highest life expectancy and the county with the lowest life expectancy is almost nine years.

Governor’s Public Health Commission

Waldron knew Indiana trailed other states but found the specifics sobering.

“I was very taken aback at some of the statistics to see how low Indiana is on some of our parameters,” she said. “Our abilities not to be able to respond or low staffing levels, that sort of thing.”

She hoped lawmakers will see the value of investing in Hoosier health.

“There’s a lot we have as takeaways and a lot to do over these next few years if we’re granted the opportunity to do it.”