News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 1, 2013

Vigo Health Department’s annual report comes out today

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Last year, the Vigo County Health Department dealt with a suspected tuberculosis case at Woodrow Wilson Middle School and it also had to respond to the largest chickenpox outbreak in the U.S.

Those are just two of the many activities included in the department’s 2012 annual report, available today.

The department deals with routine business — but it also must be prepared to respond to unexpected public health issues, said Joni Wise, health department administrator.

Tuberculosis control and case management by the local health department are mandated tasks under Indiana law.

In May 2012, the Vigo County Health Department clinic was in charge of tuberculosis testing of more than 750 students and staff at Woodrow Wilson, the result of a possibly active TB exposure.

Later, it was determined the person initially suspected of having TB was found not to have the disease.   

Then, in November, Health Commissioner Dr. Enrico Garcia declared Vigo County in outbreak status because of increasing cases of chickenpox in Vigo County schools and the community.

The health department nurses conducted immunization clinics at three separate outbreak schools, according to the annual report.

After outbreak status was declared, on Nov. 9 and 10, the health department, Vigo County School Corp. and state Department of Health conducted mass chickenpox vaccination clinics for all eligible children in the community, school children and staff.

In 2012, there were more than 100 cases of chickenpox disease investigated by the health department, according to the annual report.

The 36-page report is “an overview of who we are and what we do,” Wise said.

“We are one of the largest health departments in the state, with several divisions,” she said. The department typically has a staff of about 28 full-time employees.

The department does restaurant inspections and vector control, including spraying for adult mosquitoes during the summer to prevent transmission of West Nile virus.

It must investigate and report certain communicable diseases, which “helps us try to keep communicable disease under control in our community,” Wise said.

In 2012, VCHD clinic nurses investigated and reported 456 confirmed communicable disease cases; chronic hepatitis C continued to be the most prevalent, according to the report.  

The department also:

• Does lead inspections and follow-up in homes where children have elevated blood lead levels.

• Ensures homes and businesses have safe septic systems.

• Follows up on citizen complaints related to public health safety.

• Picks up dead animals off the roadways so other animals don’t scavenge their bodies and spread rabies.

• Ensures the safety of recreational water, which includes inspection and review of bacteriological reports of swimming and wading pools, spas, therapy pools and public access beaches.

As far as public health complaints related to housing and property, in 2012, the department responded to: 20 surface sewage complaints; 18 trash and garbage complaints; three roach complaints; 22 bed bug complaints and 26 mold complaints.

In addition, “We’re considered a first responder. We’re part of that response team if there is a natural or manmade disaster,” Wise said. “There are many times we have to go out after hours and on the weekends.”

The health department had to deal with serious public health issues during the major flood of June 2008.

“There are set things we know we have to do, and then there are those things that come along, whether it was the flood of 2008, or H1N1 in 2009” or new childhood immunization requirements in 2010, which presented an “extreme challenge,” Wise said.

“No day and no year is ever the same. It’s always evolving,” Wise said.

She credits community partners for assisting the health department in responding to public health issues that arise.

For example, the mass chickenpox vaccination clinics in November involved the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff’s Department, the school corporation, businesses and others, she said.

“There must be a team effort. … We can’t do it on our own,” she said.

In reviewing data from last year, Wise noted at least one statistic that raises some concern. The number of stillborn babies was 11 in 2010, 12 in 2011 and 26 in 2012. The number more than doubled in one year, Wise noted.

That is something that various groups will likely review to determine possible contributing factors and how they can be addressed, she said.

Wise also noted that for the first time in several years, the health department had three nurses last year. At one time, the department had six full-time nurses and one part-time. For a while, because of budget cutbacks, the department had just one nurse to serve a county with more than 100,000 people.

Now, with three nurses, the department not only addresses mandated public health issues, but it also can better participate in various community meetings and events and do more networking, she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or

Check it out

• Starting today, the Vigo County Health Department 2012 Annual Report is now available for public viewing.

• The document is available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Vigo County Health Department at 147 Oak St. or online at

• An annual report is required by Indiana Code and includes the amount of money received from all sources; the name of any donor; how all money has been expended and for what purpose; and other statistics and information concerning the work of the health department that the Health Board considers to be of general interest.