Blanket coverage: Fishers Health Dept. plans to shift focus from COVID-19


During its first two years, the Fishers Health Dept.’s has largely been consumed by COVID-19 initiatives. But as cases wane and the demand for vaccination decreases, Public Health Director Monica Heltz said the department is shifting its focus to other areas.

“We have been pushing forward on everything since we started this health department and haven’t let off the gas on any front, but for me and for longer-term planning goals and objectives, it’s really exciting to turn our attention to those things now that COVID has quieted down,” Heltz said.

Launched in April 2020, the FHD exclusively serves the city, which is no longer under the umbrella of the Hamilton County Health Dept.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said the FHD was created to better serve local residents.

Heltz said the health department focuses population health, such as immunization and blood pressure screenings, and environmental health.

Population health also encompasses standard health care, health education and birth and death certificates. Environmental health encompasses categories like food inspections, pool inspections and vector control, such as pest control.

Heltz said to provide COVID-19 vaccines, the state required enrolling in the Vaccines for Children program, which allows the health department to provide all vaccinations for an individual from birth to death.

“We started that at the clinic last year and we are currently able to offer any vaccine that is on the recommended schedule for any person of any age, whether they are insured, uninsured or underinsured,” Heltz said.

To augment the environmental health side, the FHD has hired employees like Dan Stewart, a retail food inspector.

“We have approximately 410 restaurants, schools, hotels and operations that have to be inspected because they’re serving food,” said Stewart, one of two retail food inspectors working with the health department. The other inspector is Tim Burbich.

Stewart said the health department doesn’t act like “gotcha inspectors” but works with restaurants on improvement plans.

“We want to go in and help them raise their bar up so that they’re within code minimums,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the health department focuses on issues such as foodborne illness prevention. For example, inspectors monitor reheating and cooling practices and personal hygiene.

Stewart said the labor shortage has led to some organizations struggling to meet health code.

“So many people are challenged with employees today that it has sort of fallen down in their priorities because they are so understaffed,” Stewart said. “So, we are working with them to bring that priority up to the No. 1 thing.”

Heltz said the health department focuses mostly on education.

“We are partnering with restaurants because we want them to be successful, but we want to make sure their guests are not going to get a foodborne illness,” Heltz said.

The FHD also is establishing mental health services. It will launch a community health assessment later this year.

“We are going to keep pushing to be the very best health department in the state,” Heltz said.

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Retail food inspector Dan Stewart inspects items at a local restaurant for the Fishers Health Dept. (Photo by Rachel Greenberg)

 Accessing vaccines

The Fishers Health Dept. offers a variety of vaccinations, COVID-19 immunizations, at its mass vaccination clinic at 12520 E. 116th St. The service will eventually move to an undetermined location when the demand further decreases.

“There’s no hard end date,” Public Health Director Monica Heltz said. “With the (COVID-19) vaccines potentially coming out for (young children), we may need to keep it open a little longer than we thought.”

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