Bill could fund maternal-child health initiatives

Jan. 29—ANDERSON — State officials are sick of lackluster public health funding and have decided to do something about it.

Indiana is 45th in the nation in terms of per-capita public health funding, according to a fact sheet from Gov. Eric Holcomb's office.

In Madison County, that amounts to less than $10 per person, Stephenie Mellinger, administrator for Madison County Health Department, said in an interview.

Despite the staggering statistics, all is not lost.

Holcomb discussed findings from the Governor's Public Health Commission Report, published in July 2022, and upcoming legislation during a Jan. 26 event at the Statehouse.

Mellinger and others from the MCHD attended the meeting, and legislation to increase funding for local public health initiatives was discussed.

Senate Bill 4 was one item of discussion.

SB 4 would let funds be distributed to qualifying local departments to improve services.

A complex formula that factors in variables — such as life expectancy and per-capita funding — determines what departments qualify.

With a decreasing life expectancy and below-average funding, Madison County qualifies, Mellinger said.

If the bill passes, MCDOH would receive $4 million per year for the next five years, she said, according to minutes of the Jan. 11 health board meeting.

The $4 million would be used to improve maternal-child health, including low birth weight.

In 2020, about 114 newborns in Madison County weighed less than 5.5 pounds, the benchmark for normal birth weight, according to data from the Indiana Department of Health.

Low birth weight has been associated with health problems including sudden infant death syndrome, bleeding in the brain and cerebral palsy, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center website.

"We want babies to be born healthy, and we want babies to be born a healthy weight," Mellinger said.

"That equates to adequate prenatal care, making sure that mom is healthy and makes healthy decisions for herself and for her baby."

The funds could also be used for programs to combat other issues, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, she said.

SB 4 had its first reading Jan. 9 and as of Thursday, a third author was added, according to the General Assembly's website.

The state could decide to lower the amount from $4 million. Mellinger said an amount like $2 million would still be a drastic improvement.

Passage could be half the battle.

Mellinger said an opt-in from the Madison County Commission is required before funds can be received.

If approved, the Madison County Council will need to appropriate the funds before they are used by the local department.

Mellinger is confident that the county will receive these funds, saying all of the requirements, including the minimum match amount, have been met.

Follow Caleb Amick on Twitter @AmickCaleb. Contact him at or 765-648-4254.