113: PH Workforce Recovery

Joanne Pearsol, ASTHO’s Director of Workforce Development, explains how states and territories are working to help a weary public health workforce survive the pandemic; and we share details about the 11th annual African American Conference on...

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Joanne Pearsol, ASTHO’s Director of Workforce Development, explains how states and territories are working to help a weary public health workforce survive the pandemic; and we share details about the 11th annual African American Conference on Disabilities happening now through February 17th.

ASTHO Health Policy Prospectus: COVID-19 Pandemic Further Strains Public Health Workforce

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO Policy Watch – Public Health Workforce

ASTHO News Release: ASTHO Unveils Top 10 Public Health State Policy Issues to Watch in 2022

Registration Link: 11th Annual African American Conference on Disabilities

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, February 7th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The public health workforce is worn out, thanks to the pandemic. Across the states and territories, people have left the profession—many because they were overworked, some because they were bullied for simply doing their jobs. No doubt, it will take time for the workforce to recover from the impact of COVID-19, a task made tougher by the fact that the pandemic drags on.

ASTHO has identified investment in the workforce as a top policy issue to watch in the new year. ASTHO's Joanne Pearsol tells us why in today's morning conversation.

The last two years have been rough on the public health workforce. How bad has it been?


COVID has taken its toll: long hours adapting to fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the virus; shifting priorities; countering misinformation; and jobs that, by nature, expose the workforce to the disease. Some have faced harassment or threats from the public or public figures.

You pile this on top of an already overburdened and understaffed workforce, you begin to see the effects of it. The CDC survey done last spring found that over half of the people that responded to the survey reported symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, or suicidal ideation.

The great resignation that has occurred within public health—it's occurred elsewhere, it's also occurring in public health—people are taking advantage of opportunities to retire or to move on to other opportunities. And this creates more vacancies and more knowledge drain within an organization.


States and territories have been given some temporary money to hire new people to fill roles that are either vacant or necessary to deal with the pandemic. How are they dealing with the temporary nature of it, though? Is there any reason to be optimistic that more permanent reinforcements will be on the way anywhere in the country?


States are working directly to fill positions as best they can where they're able to. And some are using non-traditional ways to acquire staff quickly, such as the use of and creation of temporary positions, using intermediary mechanisms—which is using other entities to hire staff that can do it more quickly and nimbly—and those staff work on their behalf while the agency can work on longer term solutions in the meantime.

Some states have made allowances to enter—for others to enter or reenter the workforce, such as granting professional licenses early for qualified graduates of degree programs, experiencing reciprocity across jurisdictions, or renewing licenses for retirees.

These are all creative and new ways to expand the workforce quickly.


Of course, having money to hire people is one challenge to overcome; but are people still interested in public health careers, given everything that they've heard in the news about how public health people are being treated right now?


It's certainly true that public health is facing some of the same challenges that other fields face right now—a lack of a qualified and available workforce.

However, there is reason to be optimistic. The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health reported up to a 40% increase in applications to graduate public health degree programs between March of 2020 and March of 2021.

And there are other avenues to careers in public health, too: social work, nutritionists, project managers, business administrators, statisticians, laboratory workers—these are all professions that can work within public health, and some of these are in very high demand right now. And more people are being called to the mission of public health—which is to prevent, promote, and protect—and there's a strong connection between achieving that mission and creating a space where everybody has an opportunity, an equal and fair opportunity, to have a healthy life.


You can read ASTHO's new policy brief on the public health workforce using the link in the show notes.


The 11th annual African American Conference on Disabilities is happening now. The event started February 1st and continues until February 17th. There's a session on assistive technology tomorrow, and a discussion about vaccine misinformation on Thursday.

David Carey is a disability advocate who co-founded the event. He says it's online again this year, and that has made it more accessible for people.


I love having it in-person; however, I have always been supportive, too, of virtual things because many people with disabilities, for example, are not able to travel. And so, they miss out on conferences like this, they don't get the opportunity to attend conferences; or someone who lacks resources can't attend conferences.

So, having it virtual has been a blessing for many who have not been able to attend a conference like this and receive information that we provide for the next two weeks.


There's no charge to attend the conference. You can register using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

David Carey

COVID-19 Inclusivity Educator, Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council

Joanne Pearsol MA MCHES

Director, Workforce Development, ASTHO