Last month the White House announced that it will be redistributing $7.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan to hire and train public health workers in response to COVID-19, including $4.4 billion to state and local governments to expand staff at public health departments, $3.4 billion to modernize the public health workforce, and a $400 million investment to launch the Public Health AmeriCorps.
While NEHA applauds this effort, it is not clear whether the Administration has considered environmental health within its definition of the public health workforce.
As the second largest sector of the public health workforce (second only to nursing), environmental health practitioners have been essential in delivering public health services during the pandemic. Recent findings from NEHA highlight that environmental health practitioners in state and local health departments were actively engaged in COVID-19 response and recovery (National Environmental Health Association, 2020). The environmental health workforce accepted their new roles and responsibilities even though it placed them at risk from contracting the disease. These changes came at the cost of forgoing their customary environmental health responsibilities, which suffered from a lack of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The White House’s plan is three-fold.
The first part of the Administration’s plan is to invest $4.4 billion in state and local governments to expand their public health departments with additional staff. This funding is to support public health, including funding to support contract tracing, case management, and outbreak investigations. It dedicates funding to hire school nurses to help schools safety reopen. It will build the next generation of public health leaders.
The second part of the plan is to modernize the public health workforce. The Administration will provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with $3.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan to create a new grant program designed to expand, train, and modernize the public health workforce. CDC will work with leaders from the public health community to design this program.
The last part of the plan will launch the Public Health AmeriCorps. This plan involves a $400 million investment in the recruitment and development of a new public health workforce. The program will focus on building a diverse public health workforce that is able to offer their services to the public health community by leveraging the expertise of both CDC and AmeriCorps.
None of this plan, however, mentions environmental health. It is unknown whether environmental health will be included in any of these discussions.
Environmental health professionals are critical public servants who mainly work at the local level. Regretfully, they are often overlooked when investments in public health are made.
NEHA is strongly encouraging the White House to include the hiring and training of environmental health practitioners. This workforce has suffered from a severe decline in state and local health departments since 2008 (National Association of County and City Health Officials, 2019), even though environmental health services are performed in virtually every health department, from the smallest rural to the largest urban departments.
NEHA continues its work to ensure that environmental health is included within any federal efforts regarding the public health workforce.
For more information regarding the Administration’s efforts to hire and train public health workers, please contact Doug Farquhar, director of Government Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Association of County and City Health Officials. (2019). National profile of local health departments. https://www.naccho.org/resources/lhd-research/national-profile-of-local-health-departments
National Environmental Health Association. (2020). COVID-19 environmental health workforce needs assessment II report. https://emergency-neha.org/covid19/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/COVID-19-EH-Workforce-Needs-Assessment-II-Report.pdf
Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the National Environmental Health Association in Denver, Colorado.