Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Reaching deeper to find and help the vulnerable

The phrase “fall between the cracks” accurately describes people unreached by existing sources of help.

A pandemic has widened those cracks. More people are falling between the gaps because of despair, isolation and job losses. Too often, friends, neighbors and coworkers find out only after something dire happens.

Some of those folks get addicted to drugs or alcohol. Others wind up homeless. Some face both predicaments.

Two efforts revved up this week to connect the homeless and addicted to services in the Wabash Valley. Though separate, the projects target a widening sea of people in need in Terre Haute and the surrounding region. Both could use a boost of support from a community that already has given so much since COVID-19 began sweeping through America last March.

On Thursday, two advocates for addiction services issued a plea for donations to recovery agencies and shelters. Two facilities were on the brink of closure from a lack of funds. Wabash Valley Recovery Center Director Christy Crowder and Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt explained that the nonprofit support groups rely on contributions and are struggling.

A day earlier, advocates for the homeless ventured through Vigo County to conduct a pandemic-modified Point-in-Time Count. The annual winter process strives to enumerate people living outdoors, or in non-habitable shelters like abandoned houses, vehicles and RVs parked in vacant lots. The co-chairs of the Homeless Council of the Wabash Valley — Bethany House Director Danielle Elkins and Vigo County Commissioner Brendan Kearns — led other volunteers to find people in those situations. That survey process continues through today.

The ranks of the homeless and addicted have grown in 2020 and 2021. That growth puts stress on assistance facilities and programs.

“The last year has been tough on everybody, especially people who struggle with addictions,” said Crowder, the Recovery Center director. “So much has been cut off because of COVID-19.”

Two Terre Haute recovery facilities nearly closed in December, lacking funds to pay utilities and operation costs. Prosecutor Modesitt explained that the governmental legal system — namely jails and prisons — cannot provide recovery programs that guide the addicted back to sober, productive lifestyles. Treatment also can prevent addicts from committing crimes to buy more substances.

Several recovery outlets get support from churches. Construction firm Thompson Thrift also took on a three-year commitment to renovate the Next Step Foundation residential recovery facility at Sixth and Washington streets. Interested donors can contact one of nearly a dozen local recovery nonprofits by phone. Those include: The Avenues, 812-229-1632; Club Gobi, 812-232-4144; Club Soda, 812-841-6349; House of Hope, 812-446-1717; Odyssey House, 812-298-3125; Next Step, 812-917-5006; Ruth House, 812-699-9831; Salvaged Lives, 812-232-1700; Truman House, 812-229-7244; Wabash Valley Recovery Center, 812-917-0068; and Wabash Valley Teen Challenge, 812-624-5679.

The Point in Time Count of the homeless is a survey required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine federal funding to communities for housing assistance and shelters. Because of COVID-19 precautions, the counters could not set up hubs in city parks, where homeless people could pick up food, clothing and supplies. So, volunteers visited common areas, where the homeless often live in cars or wooded places like the Wabash River front.

Through those contacts, the needy received necessities and got counted.

The survey opens up funding that will help establish a day center for the homeless at Reach Services on South 15th Street. There, people will be able warm up or cool down in adverse weather, rest on cots, collect mail and access computers, showers and a laundry.

“It is something that is definitely missing in the community,” Elkins said.

Reach Services itself serves the special-needs community. Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can call 812-232-6305.

The pandemic has intensified physical, mental and financial hardships. The entire community will benefit from intensified support of the relief agencies


South Bend Tribune. Jan. 31, 2021.

Editorial: Cautious optimism for Hoosier nursing home reforms

Indiana took an important step toward addressing the issues that have plagued a nursing home system that puts the lives of the most vulnerable Hoosiers at risk.

That’s reason for cautious optimism, and this should be seen as only a good start at fixing problems — including understaffing and a lack of transparency — that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials from the Family and Social Services Administration outlined proposed reforms aimed at increasing the quality of care for aging Hoosiers. The four-point plan would allow more Hoosiers to age at home and would incentivize quality care for residents of the state’s nursing homes.

The reforms come after a series of reports by our colleagues at the Indianapolis Star revealed alarming problems with the state’s nursing home system. The reports offered a path to reform, including stricter requirements for nursing home staffing, cracking down on the practice of county hospitals directing Medicaid money away from nursing homes they own and funding more options for home care.

Under the plan laid out by FSSA Secretary Jennifer Sullivan and Chief Medical Officer Dan Rusyniak, the state would pursue a managed care system that would allow Hoosiers to access information about the different types of care that are available, including home care. Under a managed care system, an organization or company becomes the clearinghouse for directing residents and their families toward the care they need.

Other reforms include linking funding to quality outcomes, offering faster approvals for home or community-based care and better data tracking by the state to allow it to assess providers and determine which are the best and worst performers.

The plan should help the state make inroads in the systemic problems that have been overlooked by state leaders for years. And it should help Indiana move beyond a status quo that hasn’t served the best interests of residents in long-term care facilities.

Indiana still has plenty of work to do to make the state’s nursing home system the priority that it needs to be. But this four-point plan is an encouraging sign that state officials are finally turning their attention to a long-standing problem.


Kokomo Tribune. Jan. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Hike cigarette tax for health

Raising the cigarette tax in Indiana could provide added incentive for smokers to quit while generating a much-needed boost for funding of public health initiatives.

But Hoosier lawmakers should also consider this: Smoking is legal and shouldn’t be taxed into oblivion. Raising the tax too high would put an outsized financial burden on Hoosier smokers, many of whom are struggling financially during the pandemic.

Twenty-two health organizations have called jointly on the state to hike its tax on a 20-pack of cigarettes from $1 to $3. That seems extreme, considering that Hoosier smokers currently pay an average of $5.75 for a pack. Add two more dollars, and the $7.75 cost would be comprised of 39% excise tax, not to mention the 7% state sales tax.

House Bill 1434, authored by state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, takes a more reasonable approach. It would add $1 per pack to the cigarette tax. HB 1434 would also impose an 8-cent tax per milliliter on e-liquids containing nicotine.

Olthoff’s bill would nudge Indiana’s cigarette tax closer to the middle of the Midwestern pack. Illinois’ cigarette tax is $2.98, while Michigan charges $2, Ohio $1.60 and Kentucky $1.10. The average state cigarette tax is $1.89.

The $1 increase in Indiana, which hasn’t raised its cigarette tax since 2007, would generate about $175 million in revenue that could be channeled to public health care, where the state’s spending ranks 48th nationally. The new revenue could be used for smoking cessation efforts, as well as other health initiatives to deal with the pandemic and to address Indiana’s litany of health concerns, including maternal and neonatal care.

Studies have shown that the cost of a pack of cigarettes does discourage some smokers from lighting up.

Research reported in the publication Epidemiology in 2017 found that a $1 increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes prompts a 20% decrease in cigarette purchases.

The proposed $1 per pack increase in Indiana’s cigarette tax would cost three-pack-a-week Hoosier smokers, who currently pay about $900 a year to support their habit, an additional $160 annually. While that amount wouldn’t break the bank for most, it might be yet another factor encouraging them to quit tobacco.

The stakes are high. More than 1,100 Hoosiers die each year from smoking and about 1,400 die of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The economic cost of smoking is colossal, as well.

Smoking-related illnesses demand almost $170 billion for direct medical care annually across the country, according to the CDC. Indiana is hit harder than most. Nineteen percent of Hoosier adults smoke, exceeding the national average of 16%.

Given the staggering costs and the need for better funding of public health care in Indiana, the General Assembly should move decisively to pass HB 1434 and raise the cigarette tax for the first time in 14 years.