How to Create a Public Health Emergency Workforce

Acting nimbly and deploying quickly in response to a public-health emergency is central to the CDC Foundation’s success. Nothing tested that ability to “do more, faster” than the COVID-19 crisis, as many public health departments found themselves in need of staff to support response activities like contact tracing and case investigation. Officials in state, local, tribal and territorial jurisdictions also needed specialists in epidemiology, communications, laboratory science, public health nursing and more. And they needed them quickly.

With federal funding, the CDC Foundation helped fill those roles using a variety of fast, flexible and effective staffing models. From June 2021 through August 2022, the CDC Foundation recruited 3,014 staff across 91 jurisdictions, assigning critically needed field employees to all 50 states, 15 local health departments, four territories and 22 tribal entities.

As the pandemic evolved, this response expanded to include hiring staff to help with community health initiatives, the COVID-19 response in schools, establishing sovereign tribal health departments and increasing vaccine acceptance and distribution.

Though the pandemic has passed, the lessons it taught us and the impact of this initiative are still making a difference across the United States. For instance, health departments are better positioned to improve data dashboards, training materials, budget tools and wastewater surveillance systems–all essential elements of an effective public health response.

A newly published article details lessons learned from this rapid scale up of staff and provides insights on how to build a sustainable and scalable public health workforce in emergencies and beyond.

Delve more into the article in the latest issue of Health Security.

Toni Perling
Toni Perling is a senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation.