Big cities need more epidemiologists, health officials say

Many major cities in the U.S. staff fewer epidemiologists than recommended by state staffing ratios, according to a survey from the Big Cities Health Coalition and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

BCHC comprises leaders from the country's largest metropolitan health departments who share strategies to promote the health and safety of more than 55 million people, or 17 percent of the U.S. population.

The survey includes responses from 27 of the group's 30 participating health department leaders recorded from October to December 2017.

Here are four survey findings to know:

 1. About 18 percent of health departments do not have a dedicated leader to oversee epidemiology activities. A majority (78 percent) employ generalist epidemiologists who support a few or all public health program areas.

2. Every health department had an infectious disease and emergency preparedness program, but only 33 percent had a mental health program and 19 percent had an occupational health program. Lead epidemiologists were most likely to oversee infectious disease programs (85 percent), followed by maternal and child health programs (74 percent), and vital statistics programs (67 percent).

3. The 27 participating health departments employ a total 1,091 full-time epidemiologists. Overall, the departments would need to increase epidemiology staff by 40 percent to reach full capacity.

4. When asked to rate their department's capacity to conduct essential public health services related to epidemiology, leaders said they were most capable of monitoring health status (93 percent) and identifying and investigating community health hazards (78 percent). However, only 33 percent of leaders said their departments were capable of researching innovative solutions to health problems, and 41 percent said their departments could thoroughly evaluate population-based health services.

"Some cities are woefully under-resourced," the authors wrote. "Even in well-staffed departments, there is a perceived need for a significant increase in capacity."

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