162: Helping the PH Workforce

Dr. Bruce Perry, psychiatrist and author, tells public health leaders how they can help their frontline workers manage stress caused by the pandemic; ASTHO has a new blog article that lists seven workforce trends to watch for in the coming years;...

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Dr. Bruce Perry, psychiatrist and author, tells public health leaders how they can help their frontline workers manage stress caused by the pandemic; ASTHO has a new blog article that lists seven workforce trends to watch for in the coming years; Aline Stone, Georgia’s Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia Coordinator, says a pilot project led by ASTHO and the Trust for America’s Health helped her agency and the state’s public health team find new ways to work together; and HLN Consulting signs on as a silver sponsor for this year’s ASTHO Public Health Tech Xpo.

ASTHO Webpage: Insight and Inspiration Series

ASTHO Blog Article: Seven Trends Will Shape the Future Public Health Workforce

ASTHO Public Health Tech Xpo

Webpage: HLN Consulting

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday April 21, 2022. I’m Robert Johnson.

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


It’s one thing to talk about the impact the pandemic has had on the public health workforce, but leaders are looking for answers—they want to know what can be done about it. Dr. Bruce Perry is a psychiatrist and author who spoke about this last month during one of ASTHO’s Insight and Inspiration events. Yesterday, he said the goal should be to create a more predictable environment for people, giving workers as much control as possible over how they work so they can better manage incoming stress.

Today in part two of our morning conversation, Dr. Perry tells us how we can help our frontline workers.

I’m guessing most people in leadership try to do those things, but how easy is it to get started if you’re not already on that path?


Well, it’s interesting. Probably the key to that is for the leader to make sure that they themselves are getting their fundamental, regulatory needs met.

They can’t be sleep deprived, and they can’t be overworked, and they can’t be disrespected. All of that stuff just wears people down; so your ability to provide that level of leadership is directly related to your ability to take care of your own needs, to some degree. And that, again, is a really important part of this process.

Many leaders, including the leaders of a family, feel guilty when they do something to take care of themselves.


Knowing everything that’s happened to public health workers during this pandemic, what would you do? How would you get things moving if you were in charge?


I would sit down with my team, with the people that work with me, and I would have some conversations about are there things—what are the things we do that we have control over? What are the things that we don’t have control over?

And so, once you start moving people’s attention away from things they can’t change and back to things they have control over, you can begin that process.


Is it possible to recover from the experience like the one people in public health have had for the last two years?


Yes. The wonderful thing about human beings in a health organization is that they’re malleable, they’re changeable. And so, as stressed out as an individual may feel in a moment in time, that sense of being out of control, of being exhausted, of being incapable, that can change.

But it takes time, and you have to approach things in a way that we call biologically sensible. A lot of times when we try to fight our biology, we lose. So, one of the realities of our biology right now is that most people are feeling more tired now than they were two years ago on Monday morning. And because of these two years of ongoing stressor, the effectiveness of any individual or any office is going to be diminished.

And so, instead of trying to put the gas down harder, a lot of what we need to learn to do is sort of take our foot off the gas, that we’ll go further if we go slower. If we keep trying to go hard, hard, harder to, quote, “catch up,” we’re just going to get further behind because we’re going to burn out more people, people will leave, we’ll have fewer people doing the same work—like eight FTEs doing the work of 10 FTEs—we’ll burn out new people, we’ll exhaust experienced people, and in the long run it’s just going to be counterproductive.

So, in education, child welfare, public health—a lot of these systems really impacted by the pandemic—what we need to do is recognize that it’s okay that, for the next three months, we’re only 80% as productive as we want to be and that we need to have more realistic expectations. And when we do that, we’ll get back to the point where a year from now, two years from now, we’ll be able to function at 100% again. But if we don’t do that and we keep pushing, two years from now we’ll still be functioning at 80% or 70%.



The big question is how will the public health workforce look a few years from now? ASTHO conveyed a think tank group to answer that question.

The group identified seven trends to watch. They’re outlined in a new blog article using the link in the show notes.


Collaboration can be a powerful thing as two state agencies in Georgia learned last year thanks to a pilot project made possible by ASTHO and the Trust for America’s Health. The goal of the project was to get public health and aging teams to compare their plans and discover new ways for their teams to work together.

Aline Stone is Georgia’s Alzheimer’s and related dementia coordinator.


We already had a really good working relationship with our partners at the Department of Public Health, and this seemed a way for us to do even more to find out all of those smaller things that maybe each agency didn’t know the other was working on. We knew we had alignment in our mission and some of our programmatic actions which follow from our respective plans.


Hear the story behind the Georgia pilot project in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, now available everywhere you stream audio.


Finally today, HLN Consulting is on board as a Silver sponsor of ASTHO’s 2022 Public Health TechXpo, planned for May 10-11th online.

HLN is a leading health information technology company. It offers strategic planning, software development including open-source solutions, and software hosted as a service.

Sign up for the Xpo and the chance to meet companies like this using the link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. If you’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we’d also love a shout out.

That’ll do it for today’s newscast. We’re back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

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

Aline Stone

Alzheimer's and Related Dementias Coordinator, Division of Aging Services, Georgia Department of Human Services