Editorial: Health chief Box leaves job well done

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star

If anybody deserves a chance to relax a bit and spend more time with their family, it is Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana’s health commissioner.

Box led the state through the COVID-19 pandemic with professionalism. Her weekly livestreamed updates — alongside Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver and other health professionals — kept Hoosiers informed about the coronavirus’ movement through Indiana and best practices to avoid getting infected.

Occasionally, she appeared exhausted, as did Weaver and Holcomb. COVID-19 itself was enough to exhaust Hoosiers. Yet Box and the health team also dealt with the damage from the spread of misinformation about the pandemic through social media and political rhetoric meant to divide Americans. Box handled the problem as carefully as any public health official in the country, and those weekly updates were refreshingly informational, compared to the circus-like White House pandemic sessions during the Trump presidency.

Now, after five years as Indiana health commissioner, Box has told the governor she will retire by the end of this month. Box grew up in Terre Haute, living here from age 3 through 18, when she graduated from Terre Haute North Vigo High School and then headed off to Indiana University for her medical studies. An obstetrician-gynecologist, Box was named health commissioner by Holcomb in 2017.

“The past five and a half years have been filled with challenges and opportunities unlike any that public health has ever encountered, and the public health workforce across the state has met those challenges with a heart and determination that have inspired me every day,” Box said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud of the work being done and will forever be grateful to those who continue to make improving the health and well-being of Hoosiers a priority.”

Along with her guidance through the pandemic, Box also led the effort with Holcomb to boost funding for local public health departments around the state. Indiana’s funding of its community health departments ranks 45th, near the bottom among U.S. states. Box launched the Governor’s Public Health Commission, which critiqued the existing level of care and issued recommendations.

Box and Holcomb worked to get the funding approved through an Indiana General Assembly that included supportive legislators, but also includes some that cling to the politically sewn distrust of local public health leaders. The Legislature wound up approving about two-thirds of the funding Holcomb sought. Indiana will have an added $225 million through the next two years to expand services in local communities, the Associated Press reported.

Those funds will help Indiana improve its poor health and high rates of obesity and smoking, low life expectancy and under-funded local emergency services.

Weaver will step into Box’s role as the new commissioner, Holcomb said, and that is a positive step. Both Weaver and Box displayed their concern for Hoosier through the harshest health crisis in a century. They deserve gratitude.