Public health short on staff, funding and authority: 4 takeaways

Mackenzie Bean -

The nation's public health system, which was already short staffed and underfunded before the pandemic hit, may be less equipped to confront a future pandemic than it was in early 2020, The New York Times reported Oct. 18.

The report is based on interviews with more than 140 local health officials, public health experts and lawmakers, along with survey results from nearly 300 health departments across the U.S.

Four takeaways:

1. State and local public health departments are grappling with numerous challenges amid the pandemic, including unpredictable funding, widespread staff departures, burnout, loss of authority and intense public scrutiny.

2. More than 500 top health officials have left their jobs in the past 19 months, the Times found. Dozens of health departments said they had lost employees during the pandemic instead of building out their teams, and about 130 said they didn't have enough people to perform contact tracing.

3. Lawmakers have approved more than 100 new laws since 2020 that limit the authority of public health departments.

4. Of the billions in dollars the federal government has allocated for public health, most funding has been used to address COVID-19 instead of hiring permanent staff members or making long-term improvements in public health systems. Most surveyed departments said they were concerned about funding levels, and about three dozen said their budgets were the same or smaller than at the pandemic's start.

To view the full report, click here.

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