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How shifts in the ER inform new state health commissioner’s work

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Every Tuesday, Dr. Lindsay Weaver trades her desk at the Indiana State Department of Health for the emergency room at IU Health Methodist.

During her shift, Weaver said she will treat everyone from gunshot wound victims to pregnant women.

“It’s easier to work in the ER than it is to do public health because there’s one person in front of you,” she said.

Weaver says working in an emergency room is one of the best ways to see where the gaps are in Indiana’s health care system because she sees so many patients with so many different needs. People who come into the ER often aren’t aware of the different public health resources available to them or don’t have a way to access them. She says the way to get around this is to talk to the patient about their individual needs and then find a way to connect them with all of the services they need at once.

For example, a new mother might get help with safe sleep environments, car seat setup and food access all in one visit. She said her goal as state health commissioner will be to ensure public health departments can serve as one-stop shops for everyone’s needs.

Weaver became the state health commissioner on June 1 after three years as the department’s chief medical officer. She succeeds the retiring Dr. Kris Box. Weaver’s early tenure was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began right as she assumed her previous post. In an interview with News 8 for All INdiana Politics, she said the pandemic showed the importance of collaboration across state and local agencies and the ripple effects health has on all aspects of life in the state. Prior to the pandemic, she said local health departments had little opportunity to share ideas. That has changed, and Weaver says she wants to build on that in her new role.

“Health really matters to all of us, including the economics of the state,” she said. “Thinking about health on top of that is really, really important.”

This spring, lawmakers approved legislation to provide additional funding to county health departments if they agree to provide a uniform set of services, ranging from immunizations and disease control, to health inspections and support for new mothers. Weaver said health officials are already working on ways to implement the law, which becomes effective July 1. She said local health departments are sharing ideas of how to measure success.

The Holcomb Administration drew criticism from small-government conservatives during the pandemic for mask mandates and the March 2020 stay-home order. When asked how she plans to repair trust in public health, Weaver said the pandemic was the first time many people truly saw what public health was about.

“Everybody was trying to do the best that they absolutely could to save as many lives as possible, to protect as many people, and I think it’s reminding people that that is really what public health is about,” she said. “We’re here to make sure that we can all live the absolute best lives that we can, and that often comes with recommendations, services, and things that we often take for granted.”

Weaver said she would like to focus on preventing obesity in particular. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Indiana had the 15th highest adult obesity rate in 2018. Weaver said helping people find healthy food options can help prevent a host of chronic conditions.

All INdiana airs at 9:30 a.m. Sundays on WISH-TV.