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The Biden Administration on Thursday said it planned to invest $7.4 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to hire and train more public health workers with the goal of being better prepared for future pandemics.
The funding is intended to expand the country's public health workforce and strengthen the national infrastructure by creating what the administration expects will be "tens of thousands of jobs." These jobs will support vaccinations, testing, contact tracing and community outreach.
Spurred largely by the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the plan calls for $4.4 billion in funds to be directed to states and localities to expand their public health departments with additional staff to support coronavirus response efforts. The funding will either create or support public health roles, including disease intervention specialists who perform contact tracing, case management and outbreak investigations.
As part of that effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fund $3.4 billion in new hiring for state and local public health departments to quickly add staff to support COVID-19 response efforts – including vaccination outreach and administration efforts, testing and contact tracing, epidemiologists, data scientists and other roles.
This funding includes at least $500 million for the hiring of school nurses so schools may safely reopen, and remain open for in-person instruction.
On top of that, a Public Health AmeriCorps will be created, and the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service will be expanded. The CDC program supports workers who help to identify and contain public health outbreaks.
The CDC also plans to expand its current workforce programs, including the Epidemic Intelligence Service. EIS is a national, deployable public health workforce that responds to local outbreaks. With $245 million from the ARP, CDC will increase support for programs including EIS, the Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program and the Dr. James A. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Diseases RISE Fellowship, which offers students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to study infectious diseases and health disparities.
In addition, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will invest $80 million in funding to train public health professionals to help modernize the public health data infrastructure, with a focus on recruiting from minority serving institutions and universities.
The remaining $3 billion will go toward modernizing the public health workforce. With the funds, the CDC will create a new grant program to provide under-resourced health departments with support to hire staff. This program will also offer community health workers and others hired for the COVID-19 response an opportunity to continue their careers beyond the pandemic as public health professionals.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT? REACTION
The plan received an almost immediate endorsement from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CTSE), which said Thursday that effective disease surveillance and good data are the backbone of a strong public health emergency response.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws and prior lack of investment in our nation's public health infrastructure and workforce," the group said.
CSTE estimated that the U.S. will need nearly 9,000 new epidemiologists nationwide to adequately address current gaps in epidemiology capacity and establish a sustained public health infrastructure.
"We are energized by the Administration's continued focus on building a larger, more diverse workforce with long-term sustainability and an emphasis on health equity, rather than what has historically been one-time emergency funding," CSTE said. "Specifically, we are encouraged to see the inclusion of epidemiologists and data scientists in the public health professionals highlighted in the plan."
THE LARGER TREND
The administration's announcement signals additional funds that are being pulled from the ARP. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would make $1 billion available to strengthen the COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts in rural communities.
The initiative means that the Health Resources and Services Administration, a part of the HHS, will increase the number of vaccines sent to rural communities, expand testing and other COVID-19 prevention services, and work to increase vaccine confidence by partnering with local voices and community organizations.
In April, HHS said it was making nearly $150 million available to community-based healthcare providers to use for COVID-19 response for underserved communities. The funds will support approximately 100 Health Center Program Look-Alikes, which are community-based healthcare providers that provide essential primary care services to vulnerable populations, but are not Health Center Program grantees.
The centers will use the funds to advance equitable access to COVID-19 vaccination, testing and treatment, and other essential health-center services by underserved and vulnerable populations, HHS said.
Fitch ratings has said the ARP will be credit positive for nonprofit hospitals, containing a number of measures that would subtly improve their revenue profile and reduce cost pressures.