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Indiana county rejects health grant amid COVID-19 complaints

September 18, 2021 GMT

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) — Health officials are frustrated after a northern Indiana county council rejected a $3 million federal grant following vocal opposition from residents tying it to a litany of COVID-19 complaints.

The Elkhart County health department had sought the grant to hire staff members to provide education on chronic diseases to Black, Hispanic and Amish residents over a three-year period. The county council’s 6-0 vote on Sept. 11 against accepting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, however, had some health leaders saying the council was swayed by what they view as false information and conspiracy theories.

Dr. Dan Nafziger, Goshen Health’s chief medical officer, said the county doesn’t have enough healthcare workers to meet the community needs.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see this effort prevented because people distrust the federal government or connect what they don’t like about the pandemic with this grant,” Nafzinger said. “On a daily basis we have patients filling beds in our hospitals because they didn’t understand how to keep themselves healthy.”

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County Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait said the department sought the grant after a community needs assessment showed that chronic disease and mental health were concerns in the three target communities. Wait said the department wanted to find health workers who live in those communities and can provide outreach.

More than 20 people spoke against the grant program during the council meeting, with some expressed distrust of the government and health experts and raising fears that the money would lead to forced vaccination.

“I have to believe this grant has a lot to do with COVID,” said Alison Gingerich of Goshen. “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.”

Elkhart County, which is just east of South Bend, saw severe COVID-19 outbreaks earlier in the year and was under a county health department-issued mask mandate for months until county commissioners refused in May to extend it under a new Republican-backed state law that required elected officials to approve such requirements.

County Council member Adam Bujalski said he objected to a grant requirement that the local health department assist the federal government in quarantining and COVID isolation.

“That one sentence is my no,” Bujalski 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.”

Former Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, who’s now on the city school board, said he didn’t understand why the council was swayed by the grant opponents.

“Never have I seen something like this before, ever. And I never thought I ever would. It’s craziness,” Kauffman said. “What news do these people read, for God’s sakes? ... They want to believe these conspiracy theories.”