Speed Reads

looking ahead

COVID has already begun to 'reshape' the public health workforce

A deep dive into hundreds of health departments nationwide revealed the U.S. could be less prepared for the world's next pandemic than it was for that of COVID-19, reports The New York Times — and it's not for lack of trying. Instead, state and local public health institutions "endured not only the public's fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority" to implement orders necessary to pandemic response.

An "invisible casualty" of the last year and a half, COVID has already begun to "reshape the public health work force in ways that could impair the ability to fight future pandemics," writes the Times. In fact, its examination identified "more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months." Exiting personnel are "exhausted and demoralized," in part because of abuse and threats. And despite money from the federal government, "dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all, but actually lost employees."

"They didn't join our department to COVID test 10 hours a day or to give vaccinations 10 hours a day," said Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department in Wyoming, of employees. "We were asking people to completely change their work priorities."

With experienced-yet-frustrated workers out the door, short-staffed departments are unable to lure in replacements. And few departments can compete financially, "with hospitals in the middle of a nationwide nursing shortage," adds the Times.

Sue Rhodes, a health department administrator in Kansas, echoed Emmons' frustration, explaining she's one of many officials unable to hire extra help. "Everybody looks at public health now and says, 'Who wants to work there?'" she said. "Who wants to work in that chaotic mess?" Read more at The New York Times.