The public health workforce falls short of the nation’s needs | Local news


In March 2020, America’s public health workforce was in the midst of a years-long decline in staffing levels that left the country painfully unprepared when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

New research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the Beaumont Foundation and the Public Health Accreditation Board shows that the number of people working in our nation’s public health sector is woefully inadequate to meet our basic public health needs.

Previous research highlighted a substantial need for new workers: at least 80,000 more full-time equivalent (FTE) employees at the state and local levels. In a new article published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, the researchers further show:

  • The size of the nation’s public health workforce in state and local public health departments before the COVID-19 surge.

  • The level of staffing needed to fully implement a minimum package of public health services (known as the Foundational Public Health Services).

  • The gap in staffing levels that currently exists between the two.

The researchers provide peer-reviewed evidence that to meet a minimum level of public health need, state and local health departments across the country must contract with 80% more FTEs than pre-pandemic levels.

Local health departments across the country require approximately 54,000 more FTEs to provide basic public health services at pre-pandemic levels, while state health agency headquarters need approximately 26,000 more FTEs.

With the exception of the pandemic, public health staffing levels have been declining for many years. In the decade following the Great Recession, state and local public health funding cutbacks forced agencies to reduce staffing levels by 15% to 20% nationally, a loss of approximately 40,000 staff members full time.

“Despite the temporary increases we saw in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall trend remains dire,” said JP Leider, director of the Center for Public Health Systems at SPH and lead author of the study. “Transitioning from a COVID-related surge in staffing to a permanent workforce requires substantial and sustained investment from the federal and state governments to provide even the bare minimum of public health services.”

As the US enters a period of recovery from COVID-19, the researchers examined what a post-pandemic government public health system should look like and what resources are needed to make that happen. To achieve an 80,000-employee increase in the public health workforce, the researchers point to two important policy considerations: how to recruit and fill this labor shortage, and how to pay for it.

Recruiting and maintaining a fully staffed public health workforce may involve increased collaboration between educators and public health professionals, which could include working with schools of public health to promote a pool of graduates in public health practice. public health.

Public health funding is often categorically limited through block grants or other restrictive funding sources. It is necessary to develop a long-term sustainable financing model for public health personnel.

The research team also supported the creation of the Staffing Up Workforce Calculator, which launched this month. It is a tool that allows individual health departments to create planning estimates of how many FTEs are needed to provide critical Public Health Services.


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