Booker, Smith, Collins and Murkowski introduce bipartisan legislation to rebuild public health workforce amid shortages
The legislation would help ensure that public health workers have the capacity to meet the demands of current and future public health emergencies
WASHINGTON DC – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and expand our public health workforce in a context of major shortages .
Their legislation, the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act, would help restore the public health workforce at the state, local and tribal levels to support the response effort. to COVID-19. These measures are particularly urgent given the current state of our public health sector; According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, there is a national shortage of 80,000 public health professionals.
This bill is endorsed by the National Association of County and City Officials (NACCHO).
“As we seek to build a more resilient healthcare infrastructure and continue our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must address the public health workforce shortage occurring across the country. America”, said Senator Booker. “Local and state health departments have lost almost a quarter of their workforce since 2008 and many more public health workers are expected to retire in the coming years. To address this shortage, I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that would fund a student loan repayment program to attract and retain more of these essential workers, which will help improve the health and safety of our communities.
“Improving the health of our nation and our economy depends on a strong public health workforce,” said Senator Smith. “The pandemic has stretched public health services in Minnesota and across the country, leaving us less prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies. This bipartisan legislation would help rebuild our public health capacity, mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and future pandemics, and provide much-needed relief to healthcare workers who have borne the burden of understaffing throughout the pandemic.
“Our country’s public health workers are the real heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the severe shortage of these trained professionals has taken its toll,” said Senator Collins. “As we continue to respond to this lingering pandemic, it is imperative that we take steps to ease the many burdens on our public health infrastructure and support the development and expansion of this workforce so that we let’s be better prepared for the next crisis. Reauthorizing and strengthening the bipartisan loan repayment program for public health workers would help bring more young people into the field, support our national and local health services, and preserve access to essential activities such as testing and contact tracing.
“As we continue to see COVID-19 cases rise, a strong public health workforce is more important than ever,” said Senator Murkowski. “Unfortunately, states across the country are facing real challenges hiring and retaining healthcare workers, a problem we need to address. Ensuring we have the healthcare workers we need in all parts of Alaska, urban and rural, remains my priority. I am proud to join Senators Collins and Smith in introducing this bill to create better incentives for Americans to join the public health workforce. By opening doors to loan repayment assistance, expanding eligibility, and ensuring greater equity across geographic regions, we can help ensure that all Americans have better access to the care they need. need and deserve.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role local health departments play in keeping their communities safe and healthy.” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, MBA, CEO, National Association of County and City Health Officials. “But a decade of disinvestment and the multi-year response to the pandemic have strained health services. Public health personnel need attention now – not only to get us through the pandemic, but to address other critical public health challenges in our communities. That is why we are so grateful to Senators Smith, Collins, Booker and Murkowski for reintroducing this bill. A federal loan repayment program for public health workers would be a vital incentive to help recruit and retain talented professionals to work in local, state and tribal health departments, and represents a significant investment in capacity building. health services in the years to come.
Since 2008, local and state health departments have lost almost a quarter (23%) of their workforce, representing more than 50,000 jobs across the country. Public health services also face a looming retirement crisis, with nearly a quarter of health service staff currently eligible for retirement and 55% of local public health professionals already over 45. . Nearly half of the public health workforce is expected to plan to leave their organization within the next five years. Additionally, COVID-19 may exacerbate labor shortages, as more than half of public health workers surveyed reported having poor mental health due to the demands of the pandemic response.
Recognizing these challenges, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) established the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to help build public health capacity and reduce workforce shortages. The program provides student loan repayment assistance to eligible individuals in exchange for work in a public health service. Although the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program was authorized from 2010 to 2015, it was never funded or implemented. As a result, public health departments have not been able to benefit from this targeted loan repayment incentive and they continue to face labor shortages.
The bipartisan Public Health Workforce Building Act by Senators Booker, Smith, Collins and Murkowski would reauthorize and enhance the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to help expand the state, local, and tribal public health workforce and support the COVID-19 response effort.
More specifically, the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act:
- Reauthorizes the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to provide student loan repayment assistance to eligible individuals who work in a state, local, or tribal public health department. Under the program, a person could receive up to $35,000 in repayment assistance for each year of service;
- Authorize the program for the next 3 exercises;
- Shortens mandatory service period from three years to two years;
- Expands eligibility criteria to include individuals with degrees in public health, epidemiology, data systems, data science, data analytics, computer science, or statistics;
- Ensure that program contracts are equitably distributed between geographic areas, local, state and tribal health departments, and rural and urban health departments; and
- Directs the Comptroller General to conduct an assessment of public health personnel in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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