Friday, June 24, 2011

A time to retool

Can guess how many state and local public health jobs were lost in just one year?

If you wagered 43,000, you were (unfortunately) right. It’s a dramatic hit that has reverberated in states across the country. Some 89 percent of state health departments across the country have lost staff within the past year.

And the sobering reality is that the public health workforce will shoulder the brunt of federal budget cuts in years to come.

“The public health workforce is fundamentally changing. The workforce of the future is going to be dramatically different from today,” said Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, during a session at the 2011 APHA Midyear Meeting. “We’re moving way beyond the talk of doing more with less.”

So, it begs the question: what exactly is the less we are doing? What will the limited funding allow us to do?

Jarris explained that the “future” workforce will be called upon to integrate clinical medicine more than ever before to ensure people are safer and healthier in the system (not to mention to ensure that everyone has access in the first place).

Cynthia Lamberth of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health echoed the same sentiments, saying that by virtue of the Affordable Care Act, we have a tremendous opportunity to retool our workforce and do more work at the intersection of public health and health care.

“There is increased demand for services not only on preventive care but particularly on prevention in general,” said Lamberth. “This is not a time to be waiting and see what happens with the Affordable Care Act. We all need to be involved and determine where we fit into this picture. This is a time for reinvention for what we do to serve our communities.”

Lamberth says some of that reinvention could translate into an enhanced focus on school-based health centers, community transformation grants, maternal and child health visitation programs, healthy living and aging well.

So, while there’s a lot of talk about the doom and gloom around workforce losses, why not also pepper the conversation with some of the exciting opportunities to advance our trade in a new direction that lie ahead?

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