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Public Health Workforce Shortages Imperil Nation's Health

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Local health departments face a mounting workforce crisis as they struggle to recruit, train and retain qualified workers to meet their communities' needs, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, interest in the state of America's pub­lic health system spiked, especially related to emergency preparedness. Significant new federal funding flowed to state and local agencies to bol­ster public health activities. But the spotlight on shoring up the nation's public health system has faded, and the public appears unaware of esca­lating threats to such basic services as disease surveillance.
Factors influencing the workforce shortage include inadequate fund­ing, uncompetitive salaries and benefits, an exodus of retiring workers, insufficient supply of trained workers, and lack of enthusiasm for public health as a career choice. Local public health agencies have pursued strategies to improve workforce monitoring and planning, recruitment, retention, development and training, and academic linkages. However, little progress has been made to alleviate the shortages. The authors caution that without addi­tional support to address workforce issues, including the recruitment of the next generation of public health leaders, it is unlikely that local pub­lic health agencies will succeed in meeting growing community need, a situation potentially imperiling the public's health.