Public Appears Unaware of Escalating Threats to Such Basic Services as Disease Surveillance
My comments: This is a two fold problem: the perpetual non-funding of basic services that improve quality of life, and the retirement wave of baby boomers, leaving behind a smaller work force to care for us as we get old. Technology will help, and we need to be more creative in how we organize, manage and deliver health care (as well as other services).
From DHHS released on April 16:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the post-9/11 spotlight on shoring up the nation’s public health system fades, local health departments face a mounting workforce crisis as they struggle to recruit, train and retain qualified workers ranging from nurses to epidemiologists, according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).
Factors influencing the workforce shortage include inadequate funding, uncompetitive salaries and benefits, an exodus of retiring workers, insufficient supply of trained workers, and lack of enthusiasm for public health as a career choice, according to the study, which was supported under a grant from a special solicitation for Public Health Systems Research through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Care Financing and Organization Initiative, which is administered by AcademyHealth.
“While local public health agencies have worked to improve workforce monitoring and planning, recruitment, retention, development and training, and academic linkages, little progress has been made to alleviate the shortages,” said Debra A. Draper, Ph.D., HSC associate director and coauthor of the study with HSC Senior Consulting Researcher Robert E. Hurley, Ph.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University; and Johanna R. Lauer, an HSC health research assistant.
Based on interviews with public health officials in Cleveland; Greenville, S.C.; Indianapolis; Little Rock, Ark.; Orange County, Calif.; and Phoenix, the study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Research Brief — Public Health Workforce Shortages Imperil the Nation’s Health –– available online at www.hschange.org <http://www.hschange.org>. Representatives of key state and national public health organizations also were interviewed to obtain additional insights and perspectives.
Shortages of critical personnel and deficits in key skill areas ranged from significant to severe across public health agencies in each of the six communities, with general agreement that public health nurses are the most difficult personnel to recruit and retain, according to the study.
In some communities with public health laboratories, such as Greenville, Orange County, and Phoenix, agencies have difficulty hiring and retaining microbiologists and laboratory technicians. In Little Rock and Orange County, where local health departments also provide medical care, pharmacists and physicians reportedly are reluctant to work for the government for a variety of reasons, including low salaries. In most communities, local health departments also struggle to recruit and retain epidemiologists, sanitarians, clerical staff and information technology specialists.
Other key study findings include:
* Universally, respondents described public health funding as inadequate, undermining public health agencies’ ability to recruit and retain a sufficient and trained workforce. Many respondents attributed inadequate funding to the general lack of political support for public health.