Former CDC deputy director to head new Indiana public health commission


Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has appointed the head of the CDC Foundation and a former deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to head a new public health commission in the state – a commission he says will lead a better health system in Indiana over the next 100 years.

The Governor’s Public Health Commission will be led jointly by Dr. Judy Monroe and by former Indiana State Sen. Luke Kenley.

Monroe is the president and CEO of the CDC Foundation and before that was the deputy director of the CDC in Atlanta. From 2005 to 2010, she was Indiana’s state health commissioner.

The new commission is to meet monthly beginning in September and will also hold listening sessions around the state. It is to finish its work by the end of next summer and will deliver a set of recommendations for changes in law to the Indiana General Assembly.

In his opening remarks, the governor referenced a recent report that showed Indiana ranks 41st when it comes to health care, and noted Indiana is in the bottom 10 of states when it comes to obesity, smoking and childhood immunizations.

“The task ahead couldn’t be more important,..and the work that’s ahead couldn’t be more pressing,” said Holcomb.

The 15 members of the commission, who have not yet been announced, will form several task forces to study the state’s public health system related to emergency preparedness, funding, governance, workforce, data collection and utilization, and childhood and adolescent health. They’ll also look at the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her comments to the media on Wednesday, state health commissioner Kristina Box said the new commission will look at all factors that affect health – including what Hoosiers eat, whether they smoke or exercise, and whether they have access to job training, a good education, safe and secure housing and healthy food.

“The best way to improve Hoosiers’ health and reduce those disparities is to focus on those behaviors and those circumstances that can prevent issues before they require medical care,” Box said.

She also indicated the state will be taking on a larger role in public health, saying many of Indiana’s local health departments are unable to handle their current workload, which includes providing free immunizations, processing birth and death certificates, investigating disease outbreaks, licensing restaurants and issuing permits for septic systems.

“Some of these departments are simply unable to perform all of these duties that they are required to do by law,” said Box. “Their resources are stretched thin in the best of times, and carrying out these duties during a pandemic has become a Herculean task.”

At the CDC Foundation, Monroe has been a strong advocate for COVID-19 vaccination clinics in schools, tweeting in August that schools “as trusted institutions” can “play a vital role in promoting #COVID19 vaccination.”

Indiana is now ground zero for the legal fight over vaccine mandates at public universities, with eight students suing Indiana University in federal court over its vaccination mandate, saying the university has violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights. The case is currently before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The COVID-19 vaccine has not been mandated by K-12 schools, but mask mandates at schools throughout the state have brought throngs of angry parents to school board meetings, who argue that masks don’t work and that whether a child wears a mask should be a decision left to parents.

In Owen County, an hour southwest of Indianapolis, upset parents succeeded in getting the local health officer to lift the mask mandate she’d imposed on the students attending the Spencer-Owen Community School Corporation.

In addition to recommending changes in law to the legislature, the new commission will be recommending changes to local health departments.

At the CDC, Monroe was the deputy director for state, tribal, local and territorial support.

“That’s the office at the CDC that supports all the health departments across the nation,” Monroe said on Wednesday. “So I will tell you that over the last few years, I have visited a lot of health departments.”

Monroe is a primary care physician who in the early 1990s worked as the clinical director for the Indiana University Department of Family Medicine. After serving as Indiana’s state health commissioner from 2005 to 2010, she worked at the CDC for almost six years, from 2010 until 2016, when she left to become the president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. The foundation is the nonprofit arm of the CDC and has private funding from many sources.

Monroe will remain living in Atlanta, but will travel to Indiana .

In a statement sent to The Center Square, a spokesman for the CDC Foundation said:

“Dr. Monroe will continue to serve as president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. She will commute to Indiana as needed to fulfill her responsibilities. Her home is in Atlanta, but she maintains many professional and personal relationships in Indiana, where she lived for over 20 years. Dr. Monroe, like other nonprofit leaders, is often asked to chair or co-chair committees or commissions.”

Contributors to the CDC Foundation include Merck & Co, the largest vaccine-maker in the United States, and also Pfizer, the manufacturer of one of the three COVID-19 vaccines on the market in the U.S. Several other pharmaceutical companies are on the published  list of companies that gave the foundation $50,000 or more in the year 2020.

Holcomb said on Wednesday that Indiana has reached out to the CDC for “perspectives” that will inform the work of the commission.

At least one person in the state was not happy to hear about the new commission.

Donald Rainwater, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in 2020, released a video on Facebook late Wednesday, saying it’s not the government’s job to tell Hoosiers how to stay healthy.

“Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution is the government given the authority to tell you what you can and cannot do when it comes to personal health,” he said in the video. “You have the right to choose your own health care, make your own healthcare decisions.”

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