Public health officer selected

A part-time infectious disease specialist at Schneck Medical Center has been recommended as the county’s next public health officer.

If approved by Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Dr. Chris Bunce, 55, would replace Dr. Kenneth Bobb, who is retiring at the end of this year. Bobb, 87, has held the title of health officer for 16 years.

An executive session is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 15 at the courthouse annex for commissioners to interview Bunce. The board will then vote on his appointment during the public meeting at 9:30 a.m. He would begin his new duties Jan. 1 if hired.

Bobb said Bunce is a great choice to lead the health department, and his knowledge of and experience with managing infectious diseases will be a benefit to the county.

Bunce, who has practiced in Indiana for the past 25 years, graduated from Tulane University School of Medicine and completed his residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He joined the medical staff at Schneck in 2011 and maintains a private outpatient practice in Carmel.

Although he’s not originally from the area, he and his wife, Dr. Dolores Olivarez, an oncologist at Schneck, live in the county and now consider it home, Bunce said.

“We have formed some great ties in the community,” he said. “I fell in love with Jackson County and the people here.”

He also said it was a good area to be in professionally due to the lack of infectious disease specialists here.

“There were no infectious disease doctors in southern Indiana outside of Evansville and maybe one in Bloomington,” he said. “There is definitely a need here.”

Bunce said he sees taking on a public health role as a way to challenge himself to do something different in his career and be more involved in the community.

With his existing relationships with the hospital and local physicians, Bunce said, it will help make the transition into his new job easier.

“I think I work well with the doctors here,” he said. “They are appreciative of me being here, and I’m appreciative of the attention they give to their patients. I think it’s a great relationship.”

As an infectious disease specialist instead of seeing patients on a daily basis, Bunce said, he is a “doctor’s doctor.”

“We help hospitals and individual practitioners take care of their patients,” he said. “I will be a consultant for a doctor who isn’t sure what to do, isn’t sure of a diagnosis or needs help in the management of a diagnosed illness. I also help hospitals with infection prevention and help manage their pharmacies with utilization of medications.”

His role as an infectious disease specialist helps contribute to a better standard of care in Jackson County, he said.

“I’m interested in the community, and if I have any tools to offer that would help the community in a capacity as their public health officer, then I am willing to step forward and do that,” he said.

The health department is not part of the public’s everyday life and often isn’t utilized unless there is a problem, he said.

“We don’t want an intrusive government, but we do want an attentive government, one that is aware of the problems around us; and specifically from the health department, that is disease prevention and promotion of healthy life,” he said.

For the first six months, Bunce said, he doesn’t plan to make any major changes and will spend that time getting to know the job and the people.

It’s not going to be easy to fill Bobb’s shoes, he said.

“I plan to take the baton from him and run with it and support him in his continuing efforts for smoking cessation,” Bunce said. Bobb spearheads the Smoke-Free Seymour Coalition.

“When you’re in public health and looking at what contributes to premature morbidity and death, the two greatest things in our country are smoking and dietary issues,” Bunce said. “Those are the things we have to look at among other things.”

Bunce said he has additional concerns with influenza prevention and would like to see greater vaccination rates if possible, especially in young children and the elderly.

“We have great public health nurses who are working on that,” he said.

There also is much public concern with the spread of hepatitis and HIV in this area as a result of the outbreak in neighboring Scott County.

“I would like to be prepared and have a greater understanding of what happened in Scott County, so it doesn’t happen here,” he said.

Part of the solution of preventing the spread of such diseases is finding a way to get people screened. The health department offers both hepatitis and HIV testing, but Bunce said the service isn’t being utilized as it should be.

“That is something else I would like to work on, to define those cases and get them into treatment,” he said. “I think there’s lots of room for us to grow.”

But he doesn’t think influenza and HIV are the county’s biggest health problems. He said the county’s high rate of smoking and people who are overweight and have diabetes are more pressing issues.

Another issue is high teen pregnancy rates, he said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.