37: Workforce Reforms Pitched

Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s State Health Officer and Medical Director, calls on Congress to take steps to address urgent public health workforce needs; Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health for Washington state, reminds public health leaders to...

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Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s State Health Officer and Medical Director, calls on Congress to take steps to address urgent public health workforce needs; Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health for Washington state, reminds public health leaders to keep messaging flexible during the pandemic; Scott Becker, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, celebrates laboratory teams; and ASTHO shares a conversation with Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary of Health at the Arkansas Department of Health, about his career and experiences, marking National Hispanic Heritage Month.

ASTHO News Release: Top Louisiana health official outlines six requests for Congress to prevent crumbling of national public health infrastructure

Hybrid hearing on “Upgrading public health infrastructure: The need to protect, rebuild, and strengthen state and local public health departments.”

ASTHO Podcast: Public Health Review – The importance of crisis communications in public health

APHL Blog Article: Celebrate Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month 2021 with APHL

ASTHO Blog Article: A conversation with Jose Romero to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, September 30th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


Focused on the future, Congress thinks about ways to rebuild the public health infrastructure beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis hosted a hearing on Wednesday.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana's state health officer and medical director, addressing the panel.


To recruit and retain the workforce that is needed to keep America healthy, our health departments need funding mechanisms that allow for strategic investment and longer term planning; mechanisms like longer spending durations for routine grants, capacity, building grants, specific funding allocations for professional development, educational loan, forgiveness programs for public health professionals, and incentive programs to recruit public health professionals who come from the communities they intend to serve.



Public health teams have had to pivot many times since the start of the pandemic on policy, programs, and messaging.

Dr. Umair Shah is secretary of health for Washington State. He talks about the importance of staying flexible with your talking points in a new episode of the Public Health Review Podcast.


You go back several months and look at what we thought would work, or how we would frame things or talk about things, or engage the public—it's different even than it is today.

And I guarantee you today will be different than it will be two months from now, four months from now, six months from now, because this pandemic continues to shift.

It's, as I've been saying, it's a super squirrely virus that keeps changing on us, and we have to respond in kind. And if we stay just true to the way we did things, you know, a month ago, six months ago, or a year ago, then, honestly, we fall behind; and that's been a real challenge throughout this pandemic.



At the center of the COVID-19 fight, public health labs, recognized in September during Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month.

Scott Becker, chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, talks about the work, the challenges, and the way forward. It's today's morning conversation.

September has been Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month. How can ASTHO members across the country and throughout the territories show their appreciation for the work that labs do?


That's a great question.

Well, first and foremost, they can show up and say thank you. I think it's really important since laboratorians—laboratory scientists and those that work in public health labs—typically work in the background. I think it's really important for that personal connection from the top; you know, to say, "Thank you. We care about you, and we want to support you."

I think support is really important, and that support comes in a number of ways. When there's a need in the laboratory, it tends to be a technical issue, but it could also be a facility issue. It could also be, frankly, sometimes a policy issue.

So, I think just having that connection to the public health laboratory and making that appearance is really important.


It's been a very trying time for everyone in public health the last year and a half.

What have been some of the challenges facing labs during the pandemic?


Well, I think public health laboratory scientists were amongst the first to respond because it was their responsibility to bring a test up in their jurisdictions and then ramp up testing really quickly for the public. All the while, they were also coordinating across the community, working on regulatory issues, and all sorts of things.

Then, the next issue was supply chain; and, frankly, the supply chain has been an issue and a challenge throughout.

So, we've also faced, I think, some severe issues with the workforce itself—you know, the severe burnout, the short staff, the fact that laboratories have been short-staffed for a long time. Yes, more people have been able to come on board but, quite frankly, not at the numbers that we think that needs to happen.

So, morale is another area that I think is important for SHOs to understand.


What, then, will be the biggest challenge or challenges facing your members through the end of this year and into 2022?



So, the end of this year. I think we need to get through Delta.

We need to see what opportunities exist, and I do think this is also a continued opportunity to strengthen our capacity for things such as genomic surveillance—so, variant testing, that is something that we ramped up across the country beginning last winter through the spring and summer, and that was terrific.

But we need to begin to think about genomic surveillance beyond COVID. So, we need to really think about, you know, the use of that technology for other organisms and things like that. So, that's one thing.

I also think we do need to continue to be on the lookout for any variants. That is the role of public health laboratories in our nation’s system.



Finally this morning, ASTHO celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month with a conversation you won't want to miss.

Dr. Jose Romero is secretary of health at the Arkansas Department of Health. Read his answers to a series of questions about his career and experiences in an ASTHO blog article, online now.


You can find a link to the article, along with links to everything else mentioned today, in the show notes.


Also, remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

And, if you have a minute, please take time to leave us a rating and a review.


Join us tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Scott Becker

CEO, Association of Public Health Laboratories

Joseph Kanter MD MPH

State Health Officer, Louisiana Department of Health

Umair Shah MD MPH

Secretary of Health at Washington State Department of Health