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Despite Looming Shortage of State and Local Public Health Workers, Americans Confident Governments are Prepared to Deal with Public Health Threats
Date:3/13/2008

ry interested.

"The perception that jobs in public health would be attractive is an important one, for that is an area where a quiet talent crisis is building in state and local governments in the public health area," according to the survey report, "Facing the Future." In fact, some states have vacancy rates as high as 20 percent in key public health positions, and turnover rates as high as 14 percent, according to data from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

The most severe shortages are in epidemiology, public health nursing, and environmental health. State health departments estimate they need 47 percent more epidemiologists than they have today, or nearly 1,200 new epidemiologists.

Part of the problem is finding workers to fill these slots. More than half the states report that they lack enough qualified applicants, according to the ASTHO data. Local governments report similar challenges. Local public health departments say they will have problems finding qualified nursing candidates this year; nurses account for 24 percent of their work force. Nearly 40 percent of local health departments also say they will have problems hiring qualified environmental health professionals, who monitor air and water quality.

Some states and localities have provided increased support for education and training. The federal government also can play a major role. Legislation pending in Congress, "The Public Health Preparedness Workforce Development Act," would establish loan repayment and grant programs for those pursuing degrees or training in public health preparedness or biodefense. These kinds of efforts have been effective in recruiting prior generations of public health professionals and could be expanded to reach a wide range of public health workers.

Keeping salaries and benefits in-line with the private sector will be another key move. "As even more of the public sector workforce becomes eligible to retire
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SOURCE Center for State and Local Government Excellence
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
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