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Governing: A national survey of public health workers shows one in three ready to walk away; it’s ‘an alarm’

By Carl Smith

national survey of public health workers shows a workforce reeling from the one-two punch of a historic health emergency and ongoing hostility from those they are working overtime to protect. Nearly one in three say they are considering leaving their organization in the next year, and almost half plan to leave or retire in the next five years.

More than half of the respondents say the pandemic has left them with one or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, with one in four experiencing three or four such symptoms. Four out of 10 have been “bullied, threatened or harassed” by persons outside their health departments.

It would be a mistake to view the responses to the survey as a warning or a call to action, says Brian Castrucci, executive director of the de Beaumont Foundation. “They’re an alarm,” he says.

“The very people that we trust with protecting us — who we generally ignore most days and have ignored throughout a pandemic — are leaving,” says Castrucci. “After experiencing the worst public health pandemic in the past hundred years, we are more vulnerable than we were at the start.”

The de Beaumont Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) collected responses from nearly 45,000 state and local health department employees between September 2021 and January 2022. The findings of their Public Health Workforce Interest and Needs Survey (PH WINS) have just been published.

Messaging and Reality

The recently published National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan focused on a return to normal routines. The strategies it outlines to accomplish this cannot be executed without a stable, well-funded public health workforce that has the support of state and local leaders.

As much as America might be ready to be done with COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether the virus is done with it. At present, case rates in most Western European countries are high enough for them to be considered COVID-19 “hot spots.”

Omicron propelled U.S. cases to the highest numbers ever seen less than two months ago. The surge in Europe is attributed to a variant of omicron, BA.2, that appears to be even more contagious. BA.2 is already spreading in the U.S., and levels of coronavirus in wastewater systems, another indicator of contagion, are on the rise in some parts of the country.

See the rest of the story from Governing.com here.

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