GREENFIELD — Hancock County is climbing the list of the healthiest counties in Indiana, having recently been ranked the fourth healthiest county in the state.

That and other news was part of the State of Healthcare address shared by Hancock Health President and CEO Steve Long on Thursday at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center.

Roughly 50 people attended the luncheon where Long shared his view of healthcare at the county, state and national level.

Since moving from Iowa to take over as Hancock Health’s CEO in 2014, Long has repeatedly touted his goal to make Hancock County the healthiest county in the state.

He was thrilled to report that the county recently rose from fifth to fourth place in the latest standings, after placing 28th in statewide rankings just 10 years ago.

Greenfield entrepreneur Chris Baggott commended Long for following through on his promise to move Hancock County up the ladder in a relatively short amount of time.

“I admit I was skeptical at first, but congratulations,” Baggott said at Thursday’s luncheon.

Long, who still has his sights set on moving Hancock to the number one spot, said the county’s impressive health ranking will have a “generational impact.”

“This is huge,” said Long, who shared a number of other insights with the group.

Among them were the hospital’s partnerships with the Mayo Clinic, Hendricks Regional Hospital and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, all of which provide local patient care.

Long also praised Hancock Regional Hospital’s staff and facilities, including what he called one of the most technologically advanced operating centers in central Indiana.

“We’re just finishing up a $10 million operating suite and will hold a ribbon cutting in a couple of months,” he said.

Long also heaped praise on the hospital’s cancer center.

“We have the best oncology team in central Indiana,” he said. “We actually have a wait list of oncologists who have reached out to us and want to practice here, but we don’t have enough room. We’re looking to do a second shift of infusions in our infusion center because we have so many patients coming here.”

Long also credited the hospital’s Andis Women’s and Children’s Department for offering access to what he said is the highest level NICU care in the state, with neonatal nurse practitioners from Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital providing round-the-clock care.

“We’ve also built a neurodiagnostic center and are looking for a third neurologist to cover all the patients coming from all over central Indiana,” he said.

Long shared highlights of the development taking place at the Gateway Hancock Health complex at Interstate 70 and Mt. Comfort Road, which is now developing into commercial and residential amenities, including a senior living center.

The site is anchored by the Gateway Hancock Health imaging and immediate care center, which opened in September 2020.

Long said he signed a purchase agreement “just a few days ago” with a developer who plans to create a $200 million development on the site over the next eight years, which he said will drastically alter the look of the interchange which once boasted little more than a handful of truck stops, gas stations and a solid waste transfer station.

With the complex now under development, Long said the Gateway center and other amenities have radically transformed one of the premier gateways into the county, both via the interstate and the burgeoning Mt. Comfort corridor.

The Gateway complex blueprint has space set aside for the construction of a future second hospital, said Long, with the same footprint as the existing hospital to be developed whenever a second facility is needed to serve the growing region.

“We are planning for our future for long after I’m gone,” he said.

Providing Hancock County with accessible healthcare and other amenities is essential to the future growth of the county, said Long.

Booming industrial growth in the county means a boon to the job market, he said, which means an increased demand for housing and health services.

Long talked at length about the high cost of healthcare, saying much of the issue lies with insurance providers and prescription costs.

“Whenever I get any sort of complaint it’s typically about a bill,” said the longtime healthcare administrator, sharing a widely-shared opinion that America’s healthcare system is drastically flawed.

“American healthcare is the most expensive in the world,” he said.

“Last year we spent $4 trillion on healthcare in America. The entire world economy is $83 trillion. That means 1 out of every $20 spent on anything in the world was spent on healthcare for Americans. That is not sustainable. We cannot continue to do that,” said Long, who went on to say that America’s healthcare system has a long way to go to improve.

“We do not do healthcare well. If you’ve ever traveled around the world you will see we have really different ways of doing things here in America,” he said.

“If you are really sick and need really specialized acute care, there is no better place in the world than America. We do that really well. What we (don’t do well is) preventative care…We need to change the incentives of the American healthcare system, and we need to give ourselves incentives to be healthy,” said Long.

To achieve that, he said Hancock Health is looking toward working directly with employers and bypassing insurance companies through an initiative called Hancock Wellbeing at Work, with a focus on preventative care.

“We’re reaching out directly to employers and saying, ‘Let’s make everybody healthier through the workplace. We have an ecosystem nobody else has,” said Long, referring to Hancock Health’s preventative care programs and its three wellness centers, which draw a collective 13,000 members who log a half million visits each year.

Despite all today’s amenities, Long pointed out that Hancock County was known as a health and wellness pioneer long before he came to town.

“We were the first hospital in the state to prohibit tobacco use on our campus and the first county to prohibit it in our public buildings, and that was 20 years ago,” said Long, who attributes much of Hancock Health’s success to his predecessor, Bobby Keen, who passed away in December.

“When I think about the tradition we are building on here, it is all based on Bobby Keen,” said Long, who attributed the following quote to him: “Through our mission, vision and values, we work together to put patients first.”