The Opportunity Cost of COVID for Public Health Practice: COVID-19 Pandemic Response Work and Lost Foundational Areas of Public Health Work
Context: There is little empirical evidence regarding the magnitude of the COVID-19 response across the public health workforce and the extent to which other public health programs were called upon to contribute to the response, potentially leading to less work being done in other public health programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Objectives: To assess the composition of the workforce that contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic response during 2020-2022.
Design: A large, cross-sectional, nationally representative survey of the state and local public health agency workforce through the Public Health Workforce Interest and Needs Survey (PH WINS).
Setting: Nearly all state health agency-central offices (SHA-COs) and Big City Health Coalition (BCHC) member public health departments as well as a nationally representative sample of other local health departments (LHDs) with more than 25 staff members and serving more than 25 000 people participated in fall 2021.
Participants: A sample of all individuals working at each SHA-CO or LHD as part-time or full-time employees, contractors, or other employee types was used. A total of 44 732 responses (35% of eligible respondents) were received.
Main Outcome Measure: Main outcomes included the proportion of full-time equivalent (FTE) effort devoted to COVID-19 response work by quarter (Q) from Q1 2020 through Q1 2022. Predictors of interest included individual- and agency-level demographics, most notably an individual's self-reported public health program area.
Results: Staffing and hiring for the COVID-19 pandemic response was an ongoing effort that began in 2020 and lasted through 2022. During the pandemic, all public health program areas contributed at least 20% of their workforce time to COVID-19 response, peaking at 47-83% of the staff time, depending on the program area.
Conclusions: There was a considerable public health opportunity cost to the public health systems' large and prolonged COVID-19 response. Persistent understaffing in the public health system remains an important issue.
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McCullough, J. Mac and Robins, Moriah. (2023). "The Opportunity Cost of COVID for Public Health Practice: COVID-19 Pandemic Response Work and Lost Foundational Areas of Public Health Work". Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 29(Supplement 1), S64-S72. https://doi.org/10.1097/PHH.0000000000001656