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Report: 80,000 public health workers needed nationwide

Primary-care providers have been the backbone of the rural healthcare system, and there are...
Primary-care providers have been the backbone of the rural healthcare system, and there are fewer of them to go around as the United States is seeing a growing physician shortage.(Source: WMBF News)
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 4:58 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Budget cuts came first, then COVID, and now a national report claims that state and local health departments across the country are severely understaffed.

It comes as no surprise to Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel.

“You know, it’s been 18 plus months now of nights, weekends,” Yazel said. “Just the daily workload from this is just astronomical. We were a busy health department before that with a lot of the essential functions.”

The report was produced by two national health care monitoring organizations, the nonprofit de Beaumont Foundation and the Public Health National Center for Innovations. It revealed the United States is nation of underfunded, understaffed health departments in desperate need of more personnel.

The “Staffing Up” report shows that state health departments need an 80% increase in full-time positions just to maintain essential functions, while local health departments need a 70% increase. At least 80,000 positions are needed nationwide just to get the work done on things that cannot be allowed to slide, pandemic or no pandemic.

“Septic permits, restaurant inspections, you just can’t put those on the back burner and forget them and say we’ll get back to them when COVID’s over,” Yazel said. “So, we just try to make slow, steady progress, give some sort of attention to it every day and do the best we can.”

Prior to COVID, there were vaping, opioid, and hepatitis A epidemics, and the report estimates that health departments were already struggling to meet demands with a 15% reduction in staffing since 2008.

“We’re operating with a skeleton staff and then when you add another six to eight hours a day of workload onto everybody, plus just countless nights and weekends and things like that, we don’t have the manpower or the surge capacity to handle something like that,” Yazel said. “That just goes back to years of neglect and underfunding and things like that.”

Read the full report here.

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