Community leaders see light at the end of COVID tunnel

Steve Long, CEO of Hancock Health; Mayor Chuck Fewell; and Randy Sorrell, director of the Hancock Ecnonomic Development Council

GREENFIELD — Hancock Health CEO Steve Long said he’ll never forget how Hancock County learned it had its first COVID-19 case. A driver was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy because he was driving erratically and turned out to be having trouble breathing. The man was brought in to Hancock Regional Hospital, and within hours, he was on a ventilator.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be real. This only happens in movies,’” Long said.

Long said he never expected to be dealing with circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic, but that he considers himself lucky to have done so in a community like Hancock County, which quickly came together to support its health-care providers.

“We have gone through this and had a remarkably good result in Hancock County because we have had great collaboration between health care and the schools and government and business, everyone working together in the best interest of the people that live and work and play and pray here,” Long said. “We should all be very proud of what has happened in this community over the past year.”

Hancock County community leaders discussed the community’s status and progress over the past year during the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community meeting this week. Of course, COVID-19 was a major topic of discussion. The chamber’s annual event was held digitally this year. Despite that, the speakers said they were proud of the progress Hancock County made in 2020.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell remembered getting a call at 5:15 a.m. in the morning from Long, seeking permission to open a COVID-19 clinic in the city. Within days, it was open.

Fewell praised the city’s departments for their work during the past year, including new fire chief Brian Lott’s working to create a three-year plan for the department; the street department’s perseverance despite losing tax revenue; and the parks department’s progress on Stellar Communities projects.

He also said the city has approved 674 permits this year, 286 of which were for single-family houses; several new subdivisions are in development.

“As a city, we’re moving forward,” Fewell said.

Randy Sorrell, director of the Hancock County Economic Development Council, said the county has seen success in bouncing back from COVID-19. Between February and April, Hancock County’s unemployment rate skyrocketed from 2.8% to 14.2%. But in the most recent figures, from December, that number has dropped back down to 3.1%. The county’s labor participation rate is also higher than the country’s as a whole.

“At least on the economic side of things, we have rebounded pretty dramatically,” Sorrell said.

During the year, he added, the county has received over a billion dollars of capital investments and anticipates adding about 3,800 new jobs as those facilities are built.

Long said Hancock Health, too, has had achievements unrelated to COVID-19. The utilization of both the new Gateway Hancock Health facility and the new wellness center in New Palestine has surpassed expectations, he said. The health system has also worked hard to increase transparency about its prices, he said, providing a spreadsheet on its website that lists the cost of every procedure.

The chamber’s next virtual meeting will be a legislative review, in which attendees will hear from Rep. Bob Cherry and Sen. Mike Crider, both R-Greenfield, about their work in the state legislature. The meeting will be at 11 a.m. March 2. To register, visit