Healthy Steps Forward
Fishers Health Department Leaders Give Updates on COVID-19 Testing & Long-Term Goals
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation this March, it left state and local leadership, understandably, scrambling. When stay-at-home orders began, most people didn’t anticipate it being much longer than two or three weeks. But when reality settled in that it was going to take time to flatten the curve, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness quickly got to work with his team on developing a recovery plan for the city.
The $2.5M Fishers Recovery Plan was announced April 24 with a call, among other new programs and start-up loans, to establish the Fishers Health Department. Free COVID-19 testing for all Fishers residents became available on April 30.
Today, the Fishers Health Department is fully operational and providing a bevy of services to residents. Dr. Indy Lane, a Fishers resident, is the Chief Medical Director for the Fishers Health Department. In June, Monica Heltz was officially named the Public Health Director of the department. Both women have stepped into roles they describe as fluid and extremely busy.
“Creating a health department is impressive and it is a bold action,” Heltz says. “I have a lot of enthusiasm for this position. I’ve been with the Marion County Health Department for the last 10 years in a variety of roles. I believe my education and those experiences will combine to help me lead this into something really unique. Right now, I’ve been busy meeting with community stakeholders, organizations, our workers and trying to develop our programming while making sure we have our rules, regulations and policies in place. My role is quite broad and there is plenty to do.”
“Both Monica and I have a clinical background,” Dr. Lane says. “There are aspects of a health department, whether it is COVID-19 testing or immunizations, that require some clinical expertise. That is where I fit in. I still work full-time as a physician and administrator at Community Health Network, but Monica and I meet on a regular basis and talk about whatever issues arise with the Fishers Health Department.”
When the Fishers Health Department started, the major function was to provide free, drive-thru testing for Fishers residents, which continues to run smoothly today. Testing is easily accessible for residents and follows a simple process. Those looking to get tested simply visit fishersrecovery.com/testing and take the online assessment. Then an appointment can be scheduled with an arrival time to the drive-thru testing site located at 3 Municipal Dr. Residents drive up, have the nasal swab test done, leave and test results become available within three business days.
The easy access and quick drive-thru availability have made the testing run efficiently. For those who have seen the, seemingly painful, nasal swab tests where the swab is going quite far up the nose, Dr. Lane says not to worry because the Fishers COVID-19 testing is a simple and much less uncomfortable nasal swab.
“Our testing is a simple swab in both nostrils,” Dr. Lane says. “It is not painful and it is quick. It is a super easy process. You don’t even have to get out of your car.”
The testing is also available for Fishers businesses and their employees.
As of June 16, 3.12% of Fishers (2,918 people) have been tested for COVID-19 with just 48 positive results.
Although a small spike was detected in June, the overall results have been encouraging and such a spike could have occurred with more residents coming out to be tested.
In terms of testing, the long-term goal for the Fishers Health Department is that all residents eventually get tested at some point. Unlike many county or state COVID-19 testing sites, Fishers does not require residents to meet certain criteria, such as having symptoms, to get a test done.
Heltz is encouraging any and all residents to be tested.
“I would like to see an even bigger response in terms of testing,” Heltz says. “If you are just worried, want peace of mind or maybe you want to go visit a grandparent soon, then please come by and get tested. If there is anyone on the fence about getting tested, I would encourage them to do it.”
Antibody testing is also becoming more available to the public. While the Fishers Health Department doesn’t currently provide that testing, Riverview Health’s new Fishers Urgent Care facility announced in June that they are now providing the antibody testing.
“The antibody testing suggests that, if you are positive, you’ve had exposure to [the coronavirus],” Dr. Lane says. “What we don’t know for sure yet is if that translates into immunity. That is the difficulty. There is a lot we are still learning about it.”
Mayor Fadness said in a statement back in April that, “The launch of the Fishers Health Department goes beyond a localized approach to COVID-19 but extends into the future where we can better support our community.” The COVID-19 testing is just one piece of the department’s responsibilities and is, of course, one of the main functions right now.
The concept of a town or city having its own health department is still new. According to in.gov, Fishers is only the third city in the state of Indiana to implement its own health department. In most states, including Indiana, county health departments are the standard.
So, what all does the Fishers Health Department entail? Beyond the testing, the health department also serves residents through vital records, immunizations, food and safety permitting, swimming pools, mosquito and rodent control, private water well and septic systems. The Fishers Health Department website details a full, bullet-point list of all that the department manages.
So, is the Fishers Health Department crucial for the community? Both Dr. Lane and Heltz say yes.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, which might actually seem like a bad time to start a health department,” Heltz says. “However, it also highlights the importance of integrating public health into a lot of other policies. Our nation’s public health center was not prepared for this. Having a bit more control over our local situation can help our residents and our local businesses. It is a bold move and certainly not one that is seen very often. I believe it offers an opportunity to create something unique and important that is tailored to the needs of the Fishers community.”
“I want to commend Mayor Fadness and his innovative ideas and boldness to decide that this is something important for our city,” Dr. Lane adds. “As it relates to COVID-19, I also believe this department will set us up to vaccinate Fishers residents once there is a vaccine. My hope is that Monica and I can help identify what everybody in Fishers needs. This is a great city. It is exciting to be a part of something new and something, hopefully, that we can create as a model for other cities.”
With some cities again seeing spikes in COVID-19, a general consensus, especially seen and heard on some national news outlets, is that a “second-wave” of COVID-19 could be on the horizon. Dr. Lane says we can’t and won’t know for sure until that happens, but she encourages residents to stick to the guidelines that have been laid out since Indiana began reopening.
“We want to encourage people to still wear a mask when they are out in public and do the appropriate social distancing,” Dr. Lane says. “Obviously, protesting, for example, is an important right that we have. But, if you are doing that, we recommend that you still wear a mask and distance as much as possible so we can keep COVID-19 numbers down and keep people safe.
“We’ve talked about the importance of handwashing from the beginning and that really can reduce the risk of infection. We don’t know yet if the fall or winter months will impact what we see in terms of infection rates. But it is important that everyone exercise caution, wear masks out in public. If you have symptoms, please get tested. Protect your children and make sure they are washing their hands, too. I know it is difficult sometimes with children, especially social distancing, but it is to keep everyone safe.”
For more information on the Fishers Health Department, visit them online at fishersrecovery.com/health-department.