GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Council turned down a chance Saturday to apply for a federal grant to add health department workers to educate local minority populations about chronic diseases.

The council unanimously voted down a health department request to seek the $995,698 grant from the Centers for Disease control. The grant would have paid the salaries of up to six new employees to work with Latino, Amish and Black community members in an effort to boost education about chronic diseases.

Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait told the council the request was being made after community health needs assessment surveys were conducted through both the Goshen and Elkhart hospitals. She said the top concerns of the Goshen survey were mental health with a need for a mobile response unit, co-morbidities and treatment of chronic disease.

The Amish survey results found cancer and heart disease were the top concerns in that population.

Wait said the people hired as the outreach workers would be members of the Black, Amish and Latino communities. Those workers would be trained by the health department.

“The goal is to address chronic disease in the community and we would like to get them trained and ready to go by this December,” Wait said.

Both one-on-one encounters and group sessions would be used to provide the education.

In denying the request, the council members expressed concern about a sentence in the application that stated the health department would assist the CDC with tracking and quarantining victims of COVID-19.

Mayors Jeremy Stutsman, Goshen, and Rod Roberson, Elkhart, issued letters of support for the grant Friday.

“The city of Goshen strongly supports this important outreach effort,” Stutsman wrote. “Deploying Community Health Workers in Elkhart County will address misinformation, fear and stigma surrounding chronic health issues by providing timely and accurate information about how families can gain access to care and support.”

Roberson weighed in on the situation as well.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the disparities between our residents who have positive and negative health outcomes,” wrote Roberson. “Factors like tobacco use, diabetes, nutrition, health literacy and access to preventative care greatly impacts how and if someone will recover from an illness like COVID.”

Roberson added that the CDC grant would improve health literacy and education in the county’s Black, Latino and Amish populations.

County resident Alison Gingerich told the council she was against applying for the grant.

“I have to believe this grant has a lot to do with COVID,” she said. “We are tired of being educated on COVID. We have had two years of education on COVID. Two years of contract tracing with COVID. Any more education stands for threat, coercion, bullying and virtue signaling. And we are done with it. If we have $3 million to throw around let’s throw it around somewhere else. We are tired of masking our children.

“We are tired of being forced to get vaccines. And quite frankly, yesterday or the day before President Biden declared civil war on the country. And that is why we are here. We are very concerned. We are concerned our freedoms are being taken way and by perpetuating this crisis that is not a crisis, you can look at the numbers, we are not tripping over dead bodies in the streets. So, we are tired of the fear and tired of it being continued.”

Gilberto Perez Jr. of Goshen, told the council that Elkhart County has been designated as having a shortage of health care workers and the grant would help.

“Approving this grant would allow the health department to have an additional group of people to address the concerns outlined by Dr. Wait,” Perez said.

He added he hoped the council would approve the grant application.

Dr. Daniel Nafziger is a former Elkhart County health officer.

“I work in our local health system and things have never been worse than the last three weeks,” Nafziger said. “The health systems in some parts of the country, Idaho, are breaking. We are almost breaking right here in Elkhart County. There are people who need life-saving surgery right now who are not getting it because our hospitals are overwhelmed.”

He said using the grant to better educate people about health issues will help longterm.

“If we could move upstream and make our community healthier, then everyone will be able to get the health care they need,” Nafziger said. “This is one small step you can take to make things better.”

Council member Adam Bujalski explained that the grant language requires the health department to assist the federal government in quarantining and COVID isolation. He added he doesn’t like federal mandates.”

“That one sentence is my no,” he said. “I refuse to say that whatever the federal government tells me I have to do I have to do. I will never say that.”
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