US public health agencies critically understaffed, need 80K additional employees, study says

The U.S. public health workforce needs 80,000 more full-time workers in state and local settings, according to new research from the Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the Bethesda, Md.-based de Beaumont Foundation, and the Alexandria, Va.-based Public Health Accreditation Board.

Findings indicate that local and state health departments require at least 54,000 more full-time employees to deliver baseline public health services at pre-pandemic levels, while state health agency central offices need about 26,000 more full-time employees, according to a Nov. 2 news release from the University of Minnesota.

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

Researchers highlight two important policy considerations to achieve an increase of 80,000 employees in the public health workforce. The study recommends greater collaboration between public health educators and practitioners, including working with educational institutions to promote a pipeline of graduates into practice. The study also notes a need to develop a sustainable long-term funding model for the public health workforce. 

The workforce gap was estimated after gathering full implementation cost estimation data from 168 local health departments, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, according to the report.

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