WINONA LAKE — Local community leaders and stakeholders gathered at the Manahan Orthopedic Capital Center on the campus of Grace College Friday morning, Oct. 12 to hear presentations from experts in the healthcare industry on the state of health in Indiana.
The event, called Community Conversation 4.0: For The Health Of It, included speakers and roundtable discussions between the hundreds of participants.
Rich Haddad, the president and CEO of K21 Health Foundation, introduced a quartet of expert speakers during the four-hour seminar that shed light on local and state health issues and how the community and state rank on numerous health-related topics.
The speakers included Dr. Kristina Box, health commissioner for the Indiana State Department of Health; Kevin Moore, director of the state’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction; Chelsey Winters, senior director of community health for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis; and Katelin Rupp, director of program evaluation-tobacco prevention/cessation commission for the Indiana State Department of Health.
Haddad discussed a health-related issue with the audience that makes national headlines each day — the opioid crisis. He said its effects can be felt locally.
“Locally, in our county, we’re at a rate of almost 10 deaths per 100,000 and we’re a county of about 80,000,” said Haddad. “So, you can equate that to about eight deaths per year related to drug overdoses in our county.”
Haddad also touched on infant mortality and tobacco use and told the audience that in many categories, Indiana and Kosciusko County rank pretty low in terms of the rest of the country, or in the case of locally, compared to the rest of the state.
“The hope is that our community creates an incredibly healthy environment and that all of us help to remove all of the roadblocks for us all to be healthy,” Haddad said. “And then it still comes down to choice.”
To underpin Haddad’s concerns on opioid use, Moore took the stage and told the attendees that officials who vow to combat the issue have a number of hurdles to clear.
“This crisis, whether it’s the opioid crisis or addiction in general, impacts our families and it impacts our communities,” Moore said. “It has significant impact on law enforcement and the criminal justice system as well as our schools and employers. The Department of Child Services and their caseloads have dramatically jumped because of this issue and it’s had an impact on our healthcare system.”
Moore went on to explain what makes the opioid addiction crisis unique.
“Why is the opiate crisis different?” he asked. “Different people define this issue differently. We come from the perspective that opiate addiction or addiction in general is a chronic relapsing, mental issue — it’s a brain disease. When you become addicted, the structures in your brain change, and that keeps you in addiction. But, we still have lots of pockets in the state of Indiana that see this as a moral failing or a character flaw — that if this were a better person, they wouldn’t be that way.”
Moore said that the latter perspective is present in the criminal justice system, the schools and in the treatment system.
The event was made possible by 11 corporate sponsors and drew audience members from law enforcement, health care, education and a variety of local industries.