By Leigh Morris
There’s so much good about northwest Indiana that I hesitate to focus on something that’s negative. However, it involves the health of all of us and it’s been a problem for far too long.
The 2016 rankings by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute document the problem in five key areas; here are rankings for LaPorte, Lake and Porter counties out of Indiana’s 92 counties:
— Health outcomes: LaPorte 73rd, Lake 85th, Porter 10th
— Quality of life: LaPorte 78th, Lake 92nd, Porter 13th
— Health factors: LaPorte 77th, Lake 91st, Porter 17th
— Health behaviors: LaPorte 67th, Lake 92nd, Porter 19th
— Clinical care: LaPorte 27th, Lake 56th, Porter 21st
The Quality of Life Indicators for Northwest Indiana have been reporting on this since 2000, but sadly there’s been relatively little overall improvement. Our regional health systems and many other organizations are doing some very good things that will undoubtedly make a positive difference over time, but there’s been no overall regional coordination or direction. I believe it’s time for a comprehensive look at the causative factors and a deep dive to determine why both Lake and LaPorte counties have a much, much greater problem than neighboring Porter County.
In the meantime, I suggest we focus attention on five initiatives that can, if pursued diligently, improve our region’s overall health status:
— Smoking. We need to assure that smoking cessation initiatives in our region utilize best demonstrated practices, and are partnering with employers and others to assure optimal access and utilization. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. It leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.
— Prenatal counseling and care. Make sure there are no gaps in the content and availability of comprehensive prenatal counseling and care that can help get newborns off to a healthier start, particularly given the high proportion of teenage mothers in Lake and LaPorte counties.
— Primary medical and dental care. We need more primary-care physicians, dentists and advanced-care practitioners in all three counties so there can be greater emphasis on public health screenings and preventing disease and disability.
— Obesity. Effective weight control and reduction programs can help reduce the incidence of adult obesity in our region, which is about 25% higher than state and national levels. This contributes to a host of other serious health issues.
— Substance abuse or behavioral health. We need a more holistic approach, enhancing coordination between behavioral healthcare and acute-care providers. Our inpatient treatment centers are designed for crisis intervention and need to be better positioned for early disease identification and ongoing maintenance care.
Our region is served by four healthcare systems — Community Healthcare System, Franciscan Alliance, Methodist Hospitals, and CHS (Porter and LaPorte hospitals). I challenge them to partner with our community health centers and mental health organizations to take ownership of the effort to transform northwest Indiana from one of the least healthy in the state to one of the healthiest. These five initiatives might be the initial step. If they don’t do it, who will? If no one does it, will we continue to have deaths, disabilities and suffering that could have been avoided.
LEIGH MORRIS is former mayor of LaPorte and former chairman of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. He and his wife Marcia live in LaPorte.