Americorps Helps Fill Increasing Public Health Worker Gap

A recent Governing article spotlights “Public Health Americorps,” an expansion of the longstanding public service program made possible through a $400 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) investment.

In recent months, Public Health Americorps has helped local health departments (LHDs) across the country address staffing shortages and potentially stem a “mass exodus” of public health workers. Among LHDs, a Kaiser Health News report found that 300 leaders had “retired, resigned or been terminated since the onset of the pandemic.” In addition, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, based on personal knowledge, suggested, “the deficit of workers is continuing to grow as pandemic pressures ease.”

Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Governing compiled a chart detailing the cumulative percentage of individuals quitting health and social service jobs. The chart displays a steadily increasing number of individuals quitting beginning in February of 2021, approaching nearly 25% in May of this year.

Public Health Americorps is designed to help fill the knowledge and skills gap created by leaving workers. The program partners with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development to provide technical expertise, which includes “foundations of public health” training. Public Health Americorps’ purpose is “to respond to local needs, to help corps members discover what a public health career looks like and to give them training and experience that can help them pursue one.” The work the program supports varies significantly and can range from social services to eviction support to communicable disease reporting.

Governing highlights several LHD and Americorps partnerships across the country. Notably, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will deploy Public Health Americorps funds to implement a “three-year program designed to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 and other diseases.” Moreover, the Kentucky Health Departments Association, similar to the Maryland Association of County Health Officers, is coordinating a “grant that will enable it to place 75 AmeriCorps members in 61 health agencies throughout the commonwealth.”

In Maryland, Baltimore Corps, Inc. received a Public Health Americorps grant award of $2,296,035 to fund “80 full-time… Community Healthcare Fellows in Baltimore, Maryland” who will “increase access to and quality of care for underserved populations and reduce the impacts of trauma and COVID-19 for some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable populations.” The positions will serve “with local Baltimore community health organizations including non-profit organizations, hospitals, and grassroots organizations” and feature “training opportunities [including] soft skills, leadership development, and technical skills training such as certifications in Clinical Nurse Assistant (CNA) or Community Healthworker (CHW).” Baltimore Corps frequently collaborates with the Baltimore City Health Department, currently offering three fellowship placements within the Department.

Altogether, Public Health Americorps is paving the way for the next generation of public health workers. Governing warns, however, that the program is “short of a permanent national solution” and overall “[f]unding is still not keeping pace with either inflation or basic public health needs.”

Read the full Governing article.

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