New health commissioner leans on business background

2013-01-28T17:45:00Z 2013-01-28T23:47:35Z New health commissioner leans on business backgroundBy Vanessa Renderman, (219) 933-3244

The newly named Indiana state health commissioner wants to take a different approach in improving Hoosiers' health.

Dr. William VanNess, whose experience includes time as a hospital CEO, has used financial incentives to motivate employees to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"I've seen this work," he said. "Is there a way we can make that transition to the people of Indiana through any programs we have?"

Offering financial incentives for improved lifestyle choices is one of the ideas that will be brainstormed at an upcoming department retreat, he said. It fits in line with Gov. Mike Pence's directive to new appointees.

"Governor Pence said to be innovative, bold," VanNess said.

VanNess took over as health commissioner for Indiana this month, replacing Dr. Gregory Larkin.

VanNess grew up in medicine. His father was a doctor and his mother was his father's nurse. The two worked out of the family home.

Those were the days before emergency rooms, so VanNess remembers watching sick people – some having heart attacks or strokes on the front lawn at 2 a.m. – coming to the house for care.

"I wanted to be a physician from that time forward," he said.

He teamed with his father in a family practice, later serving as president of the state medical association board and as a member of the executive board for the Indiana State Department of Health. He also worked as president and CEO of Community Hospital of Anderson and Madison County, Inc.

When the health commissioner position opened up, he applied.

"Dr. William VanNess offers a wealth of knowledge and has an extensive background in the health care industry, making him a valuable person to have as the state health commissioner," said Kara Brooks, press secretary for Pence.

VanNess said his top goal of improving the health of Indiana residents fits in with one of Pence's priorities: job creation. Businesses want reliable, healthy workers, VanNess said.

"Getting a healthier workforce should help increase our chances of more jobs," he said.

Another goal is to continue Larkin's efforts supporting a statewide trauma system.

Northwest Indiana has no trauma centers. Patients who suffer traumatic injuries are transported to Chicago, Indianapolis or South Bend for care.

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