Thousands of Experts Hired to Aid Public Health Departments Are Losing Their Jobs

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Health

As covid-19 raged, roughly 4,000 highly skilled epidemiologists, communication specialists, and public health nurses were hired by a nonprofit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plug the holes at battered public health departments on the front lines.

But over the past few months, the majority of the CDC Foundation’s contracts for those public health workers at local and state departments have ended as the group has spent nearly all of its almost $289 million in covid relief funding. The CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the CDC’s work, anticipates that no more than about 800 of its 4,000 hires will ultimately staff those jurisdictions, spokesperson Pierce Nelson said.

That has left many local and state health departments facing staffing shortages as the nation eyes a possible winter uptick in covid cases and grapples with the ongoing threat of monkeypox, exploding caseloads of sexually transmitted infections, and other public health issues.

The public health workforce in the U.S. has been underfunded for decades — just before the start of the pandemic, only 28% of local health departments had an epidemiologist or statistician, a 2020 Associated Press-KHN investigation found. Then, after the pandemic began, public health officials left in droves as they were lambasted for instituting covid rules, blamed for the economic downturn, and grappled with burnout.

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