GOSHEN — Dr. Max Mertz will retire from his post as the Elkhart County Board of Health’s leader, but his patients at IU Health Goshen Hospital should not worry because he will not be leaving the community he has called home for the past 28 years.
Mertz will attend his last county health board meeting Thursday, Dec. 5. But even though he’s ending his tenure with the board, Mertz said he will continue to work as a family practice and hospice care doctor in Goshen.
Having served on the board for 14 years, Mertz was witness to the economy’s downward turn that hit around 2008 and its effects on Elkhart County. At that time, he said the health department was bombarded with people seeking help after being laid off from their jobs.
“At the same time, we had decreased revenue from property taxes and everything else, so it was a real challenge,” said Mertz, who has been the board’s chairman since 2002. “We’ve had to reduce staff, change assignments and move things around to help meet those needs.”
The board oversees public health initiatives like food and safety inspections, education programs, immunization clinics and dental care for children among other services.
“It’s quite a bit bigger than what I think a lot of people would realize, and we’re very fortunate in Elkhart County because we have a very strong and active health department,” Mertz said. “Most counties don’t have anywhere near the amount of effort and work that we have, and it really provides a lot of great services for our citizens.”
As the board’s chairman, Mertz helped appoint Dr. Daniel Nafziger as the county’s health officer in 2009. Nafziger said Mertz has been a “model leader” for the board, managing monthly meetings and stepping up when health issues would appear in the county.
“He does all of that out of the kindness of his heart and his sense of community spirit,” Nafziger said.
Mertz said Nafziger has been instrumental in responding to outbreaks that have impacted the community like chicken pox, the H1N1 flu virus and, most recently, fungal meningitis. Fungal meningitis, which stemmed from contaminated back pain medications, infected 51 Elkhart County residents and killed three.
“It was a big issue,” Mertz said about the fungal meningitis outbreak. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m happy to have a health officer like Dr. Nafziger to work with because his general speciality is infectious diseases plus he has a medical background and training in public health, so his knowledge and expertise was fantastic for us in helping the community.”
Mertz’s term expires at the end of December, and a new chairman will be chosen in January.
“I’ve done it a long time, I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s also time to let other people learn about it and participate,” Mertz said about his retirement from the board. “I have lots of patients, and if they see any word of retirement, they’re going to get nervous, so I’m not retiring from practice at all. I have quite a few years left of that.”