Magazine article The Nation's Health

NACCHO Report: Health Departments Continued to Lose Jobs in 2013

Magazine article The Nation's Health

NACCHO Report: Health Departments Continued to Lose Jobs in 2013

Article excerpt

Even as the U.S. economy continues to rebound and federal funding for public health efforts stabilizes following recent cuts, many local health departments are struggling.

The local health department workforce decreased about 15 percent from 2008 through 2013, sinking from 190,000 employees to 162,000, according to a new report.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials' "National Profile of Local Health Departments," which this year received 2,000 responses, has been released periodically going back to 1990 and provides a snapshot of local health departments' people, resources and activities nationwide.

"This 2013 profile report is a valuable resource for all public health professionals policymakers, federal agencies, researchers and others to use to understand our nation's current local public health infrastructure," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a statement in the report's introduction.

Some health department professions fared better than others. The ranks of epidemiologists, public information specialists, nutritionists, health educators and public health managers rose between 2008 and 2013. But at the same time, registered nurses, behavioral health professionals and environmental health workers saw their hours cut and their jobs eliminated in many cases.

As employees were cut, so too were services, but it can be hard to determine to what extent, said Carolyn Leep, MPH, MS, senior director of research and evaluation for NACCHO.

"We ask in the survey, 'Are you doing this (program) or not,'" Leep told The Nation's Health. "It's pretty unusual for health departments to cut an entire program, but they may reduce the size or scope of a program. That's hard to see in our profile."

Part of what is surprising about staffing reductions in the 2013 profile is that local health departments lost more employees between 2010 and 2013--about 22,000--than they did between 2008 and 2010--about 6,000--even though during at least part of that time, the economy was in recession. Leep suggested that the reason might be related to delays in the time it takes for the effects of tighter funding to trickle down to the local departments. …

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