Press Room

Top Louisiana Health Official Outlines Six Requests for Congress to Prevent Crumbling of National Public Health Infrastructure

ARLINGTON, VA (Sept. 29, 2021)—Today, Louisiana’s top public health official and member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Joseph M. Kanter, MD, MPH testified to the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on the need to upgrade and strengthen public health infrastructure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kanter outlined six requests that Congress should take to recruit and retain the workforce needed to keep America healthy.

Kanter emphasized the need for strong national support, specifically, more flexible and reliable funding streams, as well as the elimination of many bureaucratic barriers. He noted that, “the pandemic has showed us how interconnected and interdependent we all are. When it comes to a robust public health workforce, it is not enough to rely on states alone. As State Health Officer of Louisiana, it matters a great deal to me that Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama have strong health departments. Threats to the health of their constituents will quickly become threats to the health of mine. There is a clear national interest—indeed a national security interest—in bolstering all public health workforces.”

“Departments like mine are built on a perpetual stream of short term, high maintenance grants. It’s no way to do business. You can never build for the future if your funding is limited to the priorities of yesterday’s appropriations,” said Kanter.

Six requests were made to recruit and retain a strong workforce to keep America healthy:

  1. Direct federal agencies to issue public health grants with a minimum of five-year spending durations, and ideally longer.
  2. Consider providing for health department “capacity building” grants (also known as “core funding”), free of the highly proscriptive deliverables that make it hard to respond to changing priorities and nearly impossible to plan for the future.
  3. Allocate funding specifically for professional development and career advancement opportunities within health departments.
  4. Expand educational loan forgiveness programs for public health professionals who become full-time employees of state and local health departments.
  5. Promote diversity in the public health workforce by funding incentive programs for health departments to recruit public health professionals who come from the communities they intend to serve.
  6. Create a dedicated public health worker overtime compensation fund to be used by health departments to appropriately and timely compensate their workforce when extended hours or around-the-clock response is needed.

“State and local health departments need our help shoring up their workforces before they buckle under the weight of a now nineteen-month long pandemic,” says Kanter.

Read Dr. Kanter’s full remarks.

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ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.